NRDC - European Union clean energy policies lead to forest destruction

NRDC - European Union clean energy policies lead to forest destruction

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All BioMassMurder reports: Despite the biomass industry’s claims that it sources wood “sustainably,” on-the-ground investigations by media and independent watchdogs over the past decade have exposed the ecologically damaging logging practices—including the clearcutting of iconic wetland forests—used in the United States to source wood for pellets exported by Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet manufacturer. Significant and troubling evidence shows that biomass headed for the E.U. energy market comes from the logging of mature hardwood forests in places like the U.S. Southeast.

The investigations also spotlight the vast quantities of whole trees and other large-diameter wood—biomass feedstocks most damaging to the climate—that are entering the industry’s supply chain. Enviva’s pellets are shipped to E.U. power companies, such as Drax Power in the United Kingdom and Ørsted in Denmark. These unsustainable sourcing practices not only destroy carbon stocks but also damage biodiversity in the North American Coastal Plain, a region designated as a global biodiversity hot spot.

Burning forest biomass releases large amounts of climate-warming pollution into the atmosphere and destroys crucial carboncapturing ecosystems, setting us back decades in the fight against climate change right when we most need to be moving forward with urgency. But the European Union has erroneously decided to categorize biomass energy as a form of renewable energy and treats biomass as “carbon neutral.” That effectively places it on par with solar or wind. On top of that, E.U. member states are providing huge financial subsidies to incentivize this practice. In some member states, biomass energy subsidies now make up a large share of all subsidies available to renewable energy sources. Additionally, it is worth noting that hidden subsidies in the form of energy tax exemptions or carbon tax exemptions are granted to E.U. bioenergy producers under the false assumption of biomass “carbon neutrality.” In some instances the value of these exemptions exceeds that of the subsidies evaluated in this report. In Denmark and Sweden, for example, these hidden subsidies total hundreds of millions of euros per year.

No country relies more heavily on the worst form of bioenergy than the United Kingdom. Unlike other E.U. member states, more than half of total solid biomass use in the United Kingdom in 2017 was for electricity generation in power plants, which relies primarily on burning the most carbon-intensive type of biomass (e.g., trees and other vegetation taken directly from forests) in the least efficient way. When biomass burned for combined heat and power (CHP) is considered alongside dedicated electricity-only generation, Denmark, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden are also heavy biomass users. CHP plants make more efficient use of biomass fuel by utilizing both the electricity and the heat from burning biomass.

As a result, biomass use for CHP generation tends to be less carbon-intensive per unit of energy. However, a shift to burning biomass for CHP does not alleviate all—or even most—concerns regarding biomass subsidies. Biomass harvest from forests—regardless of the facility in which it is burned—will almost certainly result in a lasting carbon debt by reducing forest carbon stocks. Per unit of electricity, all biomass power plants emit more CO2 from their stacks than coal plants do, whether they burn biomass in the form of whole trees or harvest residues. This means that bioenergy, which the European Union treats as “carbon neutral,” actually increases atmospheric CO2 levels. Proponents of bioenergy argue that forest regrowth negates this harmful impact on our climate. That is simply not true, even under the bestcase scenario in which logged trees are immediately replaced with saplings.



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