“The evidence is now irrefutable that burning woody biomass for energy can harm forests and the climate.

Tractor driving over flattened forest

But if you take 2005 as a starting point, when the EU adopted the first biomass action plan, the odds of forcing a complete U-turn on such a new policy within a little over a decade were always slim - due to the insecurity that would entail for investors and the uncertainties about EU laws.

Fern saw a need to flag this as a problematic issue from the start. We researched the subject, and eventually built a campaign around it. With few other NGOs working on the issue in the EU, there was a real need for us! I think we’ve really  helped increase understanding of the risks involved.

Crane bringing down a forest

In 2018, though, the EU continued to cling to the policy. There were two key legislative moments in the year that we focused on by writing articles for themedia; publishing reports and briefings; and organising meetings.

The first moment was in January, when MEPs voted on the new Renewable Energy Directive for 2021-2030, and chose to support a very weak sustainability framework for burning biomass. 

Then in June, after 18 months of negotiations, the EU formalised this decision. 

Log pile in Nowak

It’s worrying that after 2020, EU Member States will continue to support bioenergy that will come from increased harvesting of forests for biomass, as well as the burning of whole trees and stumps. But that fact that the EU adopted a sustainability package on the use of woody biomass, and adopted restrictions for the use of woody biomass in inefficient power installations, were positive developments. Plus, the new policy allows Member States to adopt stricter requirements, something we can build on.

Bioenergy plant in France

We would have liked to have seen much stricter requirements that would result in capping the use of forest biomass for energy. But while we didn’t get this, there was a significant shift, especially considering it is less than 10 years since this policy was introduced. 

To mitigate climate change, we have to capture more carbon dioxide (CO2) in forests, while also capturing more carbon in wood products. The EU is today, however, (only) supporting direct burning of wood, resulting in the immediate release of CO2 into the atmosphere. This is not a sustainable use of a limited resource which gives a home to the vast majority of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. 

Deforestation in finland

We will have to live with the EU’s new renewable energy framework until 2030. But during this time we can build understanding of its impacts on the climate, as well as on forest and communities. We need to present a new, modern vision for forests that embraces the climate ambition that we have under the Paris Agreement, as well as forests’ other benefits, including providing jobs, enhancing our health and biodiversity protection.”

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