Friday, June 22, 2018

Burning Wood as Renewable Energy Threatens Europe’s Climate Goals [and U.S. Southeast]

Scientists say a new EU policy on biomass is 'simplistic and misleading' and will increase emissions.  U.S. forests are being turned into wood pellets to feed demand.

A ranger explains to a group of landowners how maintaining old-growth forest in the Dürrenstein Wilderness area helps Austria meet its climate targets by sequestering carbon. (Credit: Bob Berwyn) Click to Enlarge.
The European Union declared this week that it could make deeper greenhouse gas cuts than it has already pledged under the Paris climate agreement.  But its scientific advisers are warning that the EU's new renewable energy policy fails to fully account for the climate impacts of burning wood for fuel.

By counting forest biomass, such as wood pellets used in power plants, as carbon-neutral, the new rules could make it impossible for Europe to achieve its climate goals, the European Academy of Sciences Advisory Council (EASAC) wrote in a strongly worded statement. 

The council said the renewable energy policy's treatment of biomass is "simplistic and misleading" and could actually add to Europe's greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 to 30 years.
U.S. Southeast Is a Major Biomass Source
Biomass rules in Europe have a direct impact on the United States, as well.

European subsidies have been driving deforestation in the Southeastern U.S. since 2009, when the EU adopted its first renewable energy standards, said David Carr, with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Logging in areas like northeastern North Carolina and adjacent parts of Virginia has spread so fast that environmental groups haven't been able to compile an accurate regional picture.  But they do know that some of the logging is happening in ecologically valuable wetlands forests.

In one part of North Carolina, the wood fuel industry has been logging about 50,000 acres per year (about the size of Washington, D.C.) to meet demand at four wood pellet factories for export to Europe. 

"The pellet producers say they are taking residues, but they're taking trees up to 2 feet in diameter, big trees that store a lot of carbon," Carr said.  "You're burning that immediately and putting all that carbon in the atmosphere."

"There's no commitment those forests will regrow, no legal obligation to replant them, and it's nearly all being exported," he said.  "We are the third world on this one." 

Read more at Burning Wood as Renewable Energy Threatens Europe’s Climate Goals

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