Blake Hudson and 100 US-based forest bioenergy proponents published an open letter addressed to EU leaders on 10 February 2021 advocating for burning wood for energy. Their letter is remarkable because it  admits that burning forest wood increases emissions for over 100 years.

We wrote a response that was signed by 59 EU climate scientists and forest ecologists arguing for the removal of forest biomass from the RED.

The Hudson letter refers to 100 years as “(t)he most common timeframe for measuring the impacts of greenhouse gases.” But the EU committed to being carbon neutral by 2050, which is only 30 years away. Even if burning trees delivered a climate benefit in 100 years (and lifecycle modelling such as this model from Natural Resources Canada shows it does not) we don’t have 100 years to wait for climate benefits!

As the IPCC and climate scientists worldwide have shown, we need immediate reductions in atmospheric CO2 to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.  In other words, the EU needs to grow forests – not burn them for energy.

See our letter here.

Our rebuttal did not include additional policy recommendations, so we include them here. The following key actions would help the EU respond to both the climate and biodiversity crises we now face.

Adopt binding objectives for natural ecosystems restoration

The Biodiversity Strategy proposes to develop an ambitious EU Nature Restoration Plan covering at least 30% of land and sea, with strict protection for at least 10% of land. Since forests are disproportionately important, the plan should strictly protect at least 15% of Europe’s and ensure these are surrounded by appropriate buffers and guaranteed connectivity to other protected areas. Other natural and semi-natural forests under active management must have more biodiversity and climate friendly management practices, and quantifiable metrics must be used to ensure that targets are achieved.

Storing more carbon in forests means reducing logging, not increasing it

The EU needs policies that encourage growing forests, not cutting them. The Joint Research Centre has identified forest biomass harvesting as a prime driver of increasing logging. Currently, the majority of wood harvested in EU forests19 is almost instantly returned to the atmosphere as CO2 because it is burned as firewood, chips or pellets in residential units, industrial biomass boilers, and power plants.

Eliminate eligibility of forest biomass in the Renewable Energy Directive

The JRC’s new report on biomass concludes that biomass sourced directly from forests is in general not able to yield carbon benefits within climate-policy-relevant timeframes, and further, that biomass harvesting usually harms ecosystem function, including even fundamental aspects like future tree growth. The RED does not contain any real protections for forests that mitigate these harms – only a set of insufficient sustainability criteria that do not even exempt protected areas from logging.

Use science to determine climate impacts of the “bio-economy”

EU policymakers responsible for crafting the new Forest Strategy and any other policies having to do with the bio-economy should use scientific analysis (particularly following Keith et al 2015 and Leturcq, 2020) to determine if substituting materials with wood will lead to an actual reduction in emissions.

Scientists to biomass industry proponents: We can’t wait 100 years for trees to grow back – we need to reduce emissions now.