CEESEN experts claim that Paris agreement commitment can be fulfilled without sacrificing forests in Central and Eastern Europe. They argue that wood biomass for energy purposes could actually release very high levels of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and that subsidies provided for bioenergy support coal generation in CEE. Their position comes at a time when European institutions are revising three of the guiding documents on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the EU.

Research shows that the path to zero-carbon Europe does entail relying on bioenergy sources. It is common understanding that any fossil fuels and nuclear energy supplies are worse for a variety of reasons. Moreover, there are already many acceptable and sound projects that generate sustainable bioenergy in Europe.

Burning wood is not carbon neutral

But bioenergy is a controversial topic. It is extremely complicated to measure GHG emissions of bioenergy, because it requires many variables to be taken into account.

In real world situations it is hard to define exactly what was the type of the harvested wood, what does the processing, transporting, storing and burning processes look like and what was the amount of CO2 emissions in the whole supply chain.  It is also complicated to measure the carbon that would have been saved if the trees had not been cut down; not to mention the soil carbon loss caused by earth disturbance.  Another important issue is the type of trees that will replace the ones used for biomass and the speed with which they will grow. In conclusion, measuring carbon emissions from wood biomass does raise serious concerns.

Cutting trees for energy is a threat to pristine forests, wildlife and people

Cutting trees for biomass has a negative effect on biodiversity and society. With its 60% of pristine forests outside of Russia and Northern Scandinavia CEE is the Green Heart of Europe. For many of the countries in the region, giving way to logging of trees for bioenergy production means yet another threat to the wild habitats home to two-thirds of Europe’s populations of large carnivores, including brown bears, wolves and lynx. Another issue arises from the fact that any deteriorated forest is a possible cause for erosion and floods. Paradoxically, preventing such calamities is one of the reasons to increase renewable energy consumption in the first place.

European Parliament backs ambitions on energy efficiency and a 2050 climate goal for the EU but votes for weak renewables targets and in favor of burning trees for energy

Unfortunately, last week MEPs ignored the warnings from 800 scientists, including IPCC lead authors and winners of the US medal of science and Nobel prize, and calls from NGOs and citizens, to stop subsidizing the burning of tree trunks and stumps for energy.

CEESEN experts also warn that biomass subsidies in CEE countries support coal generation. “Burning biomass with coal is not renewable energy, and should not be subsidized. Two-fifths of the solid biomass that accounted for 58% of EU electricity generation from biomass in 2015 was burned in coal power plants. In addition, 17% of the solid biomass used to generate power was burned in converted coal-fired plants and 23% was co-fired with coal,” explains Csaba Vaszko, CEESEN energy and climate expert.  This approach is definitely not the right approach to low-carbon transition.

On a more positive note, MEPs this week took steps to bring the EU in line with the Paris Agreement by agreeing on a 35% target for renewables and voting for a 2050 goal of net zero carbon, and for Member State climate and energy plans to be based on the Paris goals.

“This sends investors and the rest of the world a message that the EU is taking the Paris Agreement seriously and wants to make the climate great again.” commented Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office and a speaker at CEESEN Conference in 2017.

CEESEN experts advise not to use wood for bioenergy, cease subsidies for co-firing and implement stricter measures regarding measuring GHG emissions and savings.


More information and References:
Something nasty in the woodshed: How biomass subsidies are secretly funding coal

MEPs deliver on energy efficiency and governance, but drop ball on biomass

Scientists urge European Parliament to preserve forests

Commentary: Plotting a path for greater bioenergy use