Europe and Central Asia
13 Nov 2014

Is the EU today’s biggest threat to Southern US forests?

By BirdLife Europe

On the occasion of the National Day of Action, thousands of people across the US are coming together today to put out a call to save US Southern Forests. In Virginia, people are taking action at a wood products industry meeting, the Twitter sphere is being filled with #SOSForests messages and over 10 000 pledges have already been sent to policy makers. But what does this have to do with us in Europe?

These US citizens are pleading for EU decision makers to change the EU energy policies that are driving a growing rate of forest loggings in the Southern US. The region already hosts 20 wood pellet facilities, 33 new ones are being proposed and new ports are being built – all driven by the demand for bioenergy in the EU. And all subsidized by EU citizens.

EU renewables policies set no requirements for the kind of wood and other biomass to be used to fulfill EU’s renewable energy targets by 2020. As a result, EU countries such as the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium, with little biomass resources of their own and the sea nearby, have started to import increasing amounts of wood pellets from North America. This means that trees are being cut, taken to a mill, pelletized and shipped across the whole Atlantic just to be burnt in the name of reducing global warming.   

It seems that climate change has become a double threat to the wildlife in US forests. BirdLife’s Partner in the US Audubon  published the striking results of their new extensive research. Audubon’s findings classify 314 species—nearly half of all North American birds—as severely threatened by global warming and at the risk of facing extinction by 2080. Paradoxically, vital bird habitats for these species are being destroyed by an ill-designed attempt to address climate change: the bottomland forests of Southern US are some of the most diverse forests remaining in North America, hosting at least 30 bird species of conservation concern such as the Cerulean and teh Prothonotary Warbler. But, these forests and the wildlife they are home to are facing a growing threat with the development of the pellet industry in the region.

Fighting climate change cannot and doesn’t need to mean sacrificing our forests and their immense diversity on which we depend on. The sacrifice would be even more senseless as scientific evidence and understanding growing to show that not all woody bioenergy actually helps us to fight climate change.

Luckily EU’s new climate and renewable energy policies from 2020 to 2030 are currently being negotiated and we have a chance to make the way we use bioenergy become sustainable.

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BirdLife Europe is joining Audubon’s, other conservation organisations’  and thousands of US citizens’ call to ‘Save Our Southern Forests’ and asking the EU decision makers to limit and put safeguards on the way we use wood and biomass for energy.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.