EASAC Warns Against Classifying Forest Biomass as Renewable, Carbon Neutral
Photo by Lynn Wagner
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A commentary and press release by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council call on policymakers to reconsider their approach to bioenergy from forests.

The documents note that classifying energy from forest biomass as carbon-neutral is overly simplistic, also flagging weaknesses in current policies.

They draw on and re-emphasize the messages of a 2017 report titled, ‘Multi-functionality and Sustainability in the European Union’s Forests’.

15 June 2018: The European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) has released a commentary and press release on carbon neutrality and energy generated from forest biomass, encouraging policymakers to reconsider their current approach to bioenergy from forests, in light of a recast of an EU renewable energy directive on 14 June 2018.

EASAC notes that, in the past year, interest in how forest biomass should be regarded has increased significantly. The two documents draw on and re-emphasize the messages of a 2017 EASAC report titled, ‘Multi-functionality and Sustainability in the European Union’s Forests,’ which highlights the multiple functions of European forests, including raw materials, leisure and biodiversity, and the conflicts between their different uses. The report finds that carbon emissions per unit of electricity generated from forest biomass exceed those from coal.

The press release notes that bioenergy from forests is not a cure-all for replacing coal in power stations. The implication for policymakers to consider is that, given forest biomass’s potential to be classified as a renewable resource, only carbon negative measures should be regarded as such.

According to EASAC, carbon emissions per unit of electricity generated from forest biomass exceed those from coal.

EASAC stresses that considering all bioenergy as carbon-neutral is overly simplistic. The commentary compares carbon neutrality to monetary loans, where funds (or carbon) are repaid over time. It cautions however, that until such a loan is paid back in full, there remain negative impacts on climate. EASAC further notes that, to meet the ambition of a 1.5°C warming target under the Paris Agreement on climate change, only energy projects with payback periods faster than 10 years should be regarded as “renewable.”

On carbon accounting, EASAC flags the distinction between emissions from combustion and those from land use and land-use change and forestry (LULUCF). The Council highlights that, under current rules, countries can “record imported biomass as zero emission on combustion.” The commentary also outlines EASAC’s engagement with the European Commission, Parliament and other stakeholders on the weaknesses of current policies.

EASAC is formed by the 27 National Science Academies of the EU member States, Norway and Switzerland, and covers all scientific disciplines. [EASAC Commentary] [EASAC Press Release on EU’s Renewable Energy Ambitions] [Multi-functionality and Sustainability in the European Union’s Forests] [EU Press Release on EU Renewable Energy Directive]

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