EU must ensure bioenergy is really 'green'
Bioenergy, which can be defined as energy generated from renewable biomass (i.e. living plants and plant components), has been hailed as one of the key weapons in the battle against global warming. However, as the European Commission releases its Biomass Action Plan, BirdLife has warned the EU that it must put in place strong environmental safeguards. Without these, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be negligible and impacts on the broader environment will be severe.
BirdLife, along with WWF, Greenpeace and the European Environmental Bureau, believes that bioenergy can become a key source of energy in the future, and welcomes the EU's efforts to increase its use. However there are serious concerns that the EU Biomass Action Plan does not guarantee environmental and social safeguards.
These measures should apply to both European and imported bioenergy, and include checks on the greenhouse gas balance of the crop. Due to their high level of inputs during the cultivation and transformation phases, certain biomass production systems result in levels of greenhouse gas emissions which are not much lower than those of fossil fuels. Furthermore, the impact of biomass production on biodiversity, water and soil needs to be taken into account. This is already a major problem in the tropics, where millions of hectares of forest have already been converted into soya, sugarcane and palm oil plantations.
"Travelling in a car fuelled by biodiesel seems like a great, environmentally-friendly thing to do. However, if the biodiesel has come from soya planted in the Brazilian Amazon or palm oil from Indonesia, the green consumer is likely to be unwittingly driving another nail into the coffin of the world's great ecosystems." —Ariel Brunner, BirdLife
As well as worries over the negligible impact on greenhouse gas emissions, there are obvious major concerns over the potential for rampant destruction of habitats and biodiversity. This was thrown sharply into focus earlier this week when a new species of cat-like mammal was discovered in Borneo – in an area earmarked for conversion to oil palm plantations.
"If managed sustainably, bioenergy can help us to cut greenhouse gas emissions and restore degraded land," said Ariel Brunner, Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife International. "However, poorly managed production does little to reduce emissions and can have a devastating impact on the environment."
"Large scale biomass plantation projects like the massive planned oil palm plantation in Kalimantan, Indonesia, entail the destruction of vast swathes of rainforest. This not only affects valuable ecosystems, but contributes to climate change as the rainforests are an important carbon sink," said Jean-Philippe Denruyter, Climate Change and Energy Policy Officer at WWF. "We are calling on the EU to ensure such projects will not be supported through biofuel imports into the EU."