Climate thinktank Sandbag claim that plans to convert coal plants to run on wood pellets instead of coal could accelerate the climate crisis.
The process would annually destroy woodland amounting to half the size of the Black Forest in Germany.
The campaigners say that tree cutting will lead to forests will be destroyed faster than they can replenish, thanks to subsidies intended to cut carbon emissions.
36m tonnes of wood pellets will be required annually for Europe’s planned biomass projects. This figure is equal to the entire current global supply, requiring 2700km2 to be cut down each year in order to produce the pellets.
The author of the report, Charles Moore, said that the bulk of pellets come from Canada and the US, “meaning that there’s a huge added environmental cost in transporting the wood from the other side of the Atlantic”.
The Netherlands, Germany and Finland lead the biomass conversions in Europe, with an estimated 67m tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere. Sandbag warns that It is unlikely that the emissions would be reabsorbed by new trees over the time period required to meet the target of the Paris climate agreement.
However, regulators in the EU consider biomass to be carbon neutral, arguing that the growth of new trees can absorb the same amount of carbon that is produced by the burned pellets for producing electricity.
The biomass power plants would produce less than 2% of the electricity needs for the EU. This is the same capacity that is currently generated by wind and solar power developers annually.
“It’s impossible to believe coal companies when they argue that the switch to burning forests could be good for the climate,” said Moore.
The WWF’s Alex Mason says that burning forests are ‘literally the opposite’ of what we need to be doing in order to combat the climate crisis situation:
“As 800 scientists pointed out last year, converting coal plants to biomass will increase emissions for decades, if not centuries. This new report is yet more evidence that the EU must use the new EU Green Deal to fix EU bioenergy rules before this ticking time-bomb of a policy does any more damage”.
Professor Michael Norton of The European Academies Science Advisory says that it is “horrifying from a climate perspective” for there to be forest removal on the scale that would be required to provide wood pellets for biomass projects, adding that it risks missing the Paris agreement goals completely.
He said that despite research showing the need to prevent deforestation and the overall ‘counter-productive nature of biomass’, European countries are still moving ahead with biomass projects.
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