Europe and Central Asia
11 Feb 2013

The risk of assuming that biomass is sustainable

By BirdLife Europe

On Wednesday 30 January green NGOs, including BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, the EEB and FERN, organized the conference “How Sustainable is Scandinavian Biomass?” an issue relevant not only to countries with many forests such as Scandinavian countries, but also to all European countries as renewable energy is on everyone’s agenda in one way or another. Biomass can be any kind of organic material that permits to produce energy. Biofuels are one example of a type of fuel derived from biomass such as sugar, wheat, or vegetable oil such as rapeseed. However, other forms of bioenergy derived from biomass also exist, such as the energy produced by burning wood. In 2009, by adopting the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the EU committed to sourcing 20% of its total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. This legislation has been translated by Member States as adding half of the 20% under a form of biomass for electricity, heating or road fuels. Many countries with large forest sectors already see an increase of the extraction of biomass for energy, heating and fuel purposes. Yet, existing regulations have proven to be insufficient to guarantee the maintenance of forest biodiversity and the sustainability of forest management. Ariel Brunner, Head of EU Policy at BirdLife Europe said “Scandinavian forests provide European markets with the majority of forest-based products. Researches show that forest biodiversity both in Sweden and in Finland are declining.” He added “as the use of woody biomass for energy purposes will increase to 10% of EU energy consumption the pressure on European forests will increase, deteriorating forest ecosystems even more if sustainable standards are not put in place”. Although a transition away from fossil energy is much needed in order to reduce Europe’s CO2 emissions, there are significant risks associated with disproportionately increasing bioenergy use, particularly from woody biomass. The target originating from the RED was put in place without any form of assurance as to its sustainability. There is currently no guarantee that biomass used for energy production comes from sustainable sources and no guarantee that it is not competing for land used to produce food (indirect land use change) and no guarantee that biomass use will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Ariel Brunner concluded, “The current biomass gold rush is damaging to both biodiversity and climate. We urgently need a sustainability framework that also protects our forests. Scandinavian governments should support the framework instead of boycotting it.” The organizing green NGOs hope that the event, that brought together key EU and national institutions and civil society’s representatives, will foster constructive dialogue around the establishment of a mandatory sustainability framework to regulate the increased use of biomass for energy purposes, and guarantee a reduction of CO2 emissions as well as limit unwanted indirect land use change (ILUC). For further information please contact Elodie Cantaloube, Media and Communication Assistant at BirdLife Europe

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