It has been a summer of extremes. Record droughts, wildfires and heat waves have hit the continent, while record energy prices have rocked their economies. These calamities are taking a human toll, and the hardships are expected to deepen as we head into fall.
Our dependence on fossil fuels is the main culprit. While there are no quick and easy solutions, the path out of this situation is clear: we must accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels and break their grip on our climate and energy markets.
That is why the European Parliament must vote in September to preserve the contributions of woody biomass. Sustainable biomass has already done more than any other renewable energy to keep fossil carbon safely in the ground. It has replaced ever-increasing amounts of oil, coal and gas in recent decades, and now accounts for 40 percent of Europe’s renewable energy consumption.
Sustainable biomass has already done more than any other renewable energy to keep fossil carbon safely in the ground.
Across Europe, residential and district heating systems and power stations have been converted from fossil fuels to run on by-products and residues from sustainable forestry operations. In total, woody biomass heats 50 million homes, generates 40 gigawatts of power on demand and makes a greater contribution to Europe’s renewable energy targets than all of the continent’s wind, solar and hydropower output combined.
Biomass is the only renewable technology that is reliable, manageable and flexible. This means supplies can be scaled up and down as needed to meet power demand, allowing more intermittent renewables such as wind and solar to be deployed with confidence. It provides the same grid-balancing service as fossil fuels, but without releasing the carbon that has been stored in the Earth for millennia.
Not surprisingly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the European Climate Foundation have called for an increase in biomass use to help alleviate the current energy crisis. Their latest reports cite biomass as an important tool to address energy security while supporting climate action.
Not surprisingly, the International Energy Agency and the European Climate Foundation have called for an increase in the use of biomass to help alleviate the current energy crisis.
“Europe and the world do not have to choose between addressing the current energy security crisis and the climate crisis,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director. “The lasting solution to both crises is a huge and rapid increase in investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other clean technologies.”
Critics incorrectly claim that biomass is driving forest destruction and therefore any residue taken after harvesting activities should no longer count towards renewable energy targets. This is the basis for the proposed rules that would effectively eliminate the use of “primary woody biomass”. These unnecessary restrictions would wipe out 20% of the EU’s renewable energy and reduce the pan-European renewable energy share to 17.7%, a level last seen in 2015.
These unnecessary restrictions would wipe out 20% of the EU’s renewable energy and reduce the pan-European renewable energy share to 17.7%, a level last seen in 2015.
But this view ignores key facts about our demonstrated ability to get wood from forests while keeping them healthy. In fact, European forests are increasing both in area and in growing material. Between 1990 and 2015, EU countries reforested an area the size of Portugal, and the bloc’s forests today contain a larger stock of wood than at any time since the Middle Ages.
The truth is that the harmful extractive forestry model that activists often present was abandoned and replaced by regenerative forestry long ago. Decades of scientific research and experience inform the way forests are now carefully managed, ensuring ecosystem services and biodiversity are protected, while growing more wood than is harvested each year. The result is that the volume of wood in European forests has increased on average by more than 350 million m³ per year over the last 30 years.
In addition, biomass is subject to the strictest standards in the entire forestry sector, addressing all elements of sustainability. These regulations were specifically designed to obtain biomass from the forest and go beyond protecting biodiversity and maintaining the carbon stocks of the regions of origin. They also require transparency in the supply chain and enforce accountability through certification systems and annual independent audits.
We know that these regulations work as the data shows. In fact, an IPCC scientist recently pointed out that the EU can “triple” the amount of biomass produced sustainably in the coming decades, while strengthening ecological targets.
It is also critical to understand that removing biomass from our energy mix will only increase our dependence on fossil fuels, not reduce it.
We have already seen that heat and power generators cannot simply turn to intermittent solar and wind power to fill the gap of reduced gas supplies. Instead, they have increased their use of coal, even restarting dormant plants to make up for the shortfall.
Removing primary woody biomass will accelerate this trend, further extending the life of coal and gas, and pumping more fossil carbon into the atmosphere at a time when we should be cutting it.
“With the right decisions, the EU has the potential to come out of this crisis stronger in energy security, through greater reliance on local renewables, and as a leader in the fight against climate change,” said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation. Parliament must choose wisely in the next plenary session. The removal of primary woody biomass is a setback in renewable energy that Europe cannot afford.
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