New data reveals shocking scale of planned forest biomass industry growth
Threat map report shows biomass industry set to increase 250% in next decade – threatening both the fight against climate change and forests globally.
There is a new and growing threat to the world’s forests, people and climate: the biomass energy industry, touted as a ‘renewable’ energy. The use of forest biomass as a source of ‘green energy’ is set to increase by a staggering 250% over the next decade, having already doubled in the previous ten years, according to research published today by the Environmental Paper Network (EPN). The growth is being encouraged despite scientists discrediting the climate benefits and civil society raising alarms about the threat it poses to the world’s forests and their inhabitants.
The EPN’s new report “Are Forests the New Coal? A Global Threat Map of Biomass Energy Development” finds that Japan and South Korea are emerging centres for forest biomass energy consumption. They are emulating European policies which subsidise the burning of wood for energy, but fail to count the resulting smokestack carbon emissions.
“Countries at the coming UN Climate Conference need to fix the broken policies which escalate logging and burning of forests. They need to ensure that the Paris Agreement rulebook closes the loopholes which allow huge emissions from wood combustion to go unaccounted for,” said Ms. Peg Putt, coordinator of the EPN’s Working Group on Forests, Climate and Biomass.
Despite the controversies, bioenergy dominates ‘renewable’ energy production in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), dwarfing wind and solar and soaking up subsidies that should be applied to these genuinely low emissions technologies. Although burning wood is more emissive than burning coal per unit of energy produced, flawed carbon accounting methods set the emissions from wood burning at zero in the energy sector. This has spurred massive expansion.
The majority of feedstock for the increasing wood pellet market will come direct from the tropical, temperate and boreal forests of developed and developing countries alike. That is, forests of South-East Asia and Africa, the US, Europe and Australia, plus Russia and Canada. It cannot and will not be predominantly supplied from sawmill residues, as frequently and misleadingly stated.
“The runaway expansion of wood-fired energy generation is already damaging natural forests, the climate, forest communities and those living near production facilities. We used published statistics and the industry’s own predictions to figure out how much bigger the threat is going to get. The research showed that the scale of the sector’s planned growth is genuinely frightening, expanding to two and a half times as big as it is now over the next ten years,” said Ms. Putt.
“At a time when protecting our forests and their vast stores of carbon is a global necessity, the biomass industry is relentlessly trying to expand. The European Union is embracing flawed policies that mistakenly class forest biomass as carbon neutral, and 22 million tonnes of wood pellets are consumed in the EU each year. The biomass boom has to stop before it’s too late for forests, people, and the climate”, said Katja Garson, Forest and Climate Campaigner at Fern.
The Threat Map report should be read together with ‘The Biomass Delusion”, a position statement by more than 130 non-government groups released last month, which highlights the delusions driving the exponential growth of bioenergy: the idea that forest biomass energy is carbon neutral, and that it can be supplied without tearing down more forests.
“We are witnessing a false solution that increases emissions and puts forests on the chopping block. Even the industry says they’re not sure where all the wood will come from” said Ms. Putt.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear that to tackle climate change we have to urgently protect and restore forests. Subsidising bioenergy increases deforestation and forest degradation and takes money away from low emissions technology like wind and solar. Even if damaged forests are allowed to grow back, it will happen way too late to reduce the climate disaster”, added Ms Garson.
“To effectively address climate change there is only one solution: go beyond the burning economy,” Ms. Putt concluded.