Tag Archives: EU Renewable Energy Directive

Half of Europe’s renewable energy ‘comes from wood’

November 30 2012. Source: EurActiv

Practically half of the EU’s renewable energy currently comes from wood and wood waste, according to the EU statistics office Eurostat, but a lack of sustainability criteria for measuring its environmental impact is stoking fears of a hidden carbon debt mountain.

The new Eurostat numbers were issued in conjunction with the UN’s Year of Sustainable Energy For All (SE4ALL), which sets ambitious renewables, energy efficiency and universal energy access targets.

According to the Eurostat statistics, on average, 49% of renewable energy in the EU 27 states came from wood and wood waste in 2010, and most EU states met the majority of their renewable energy obligations this way.

Forest products were most popular in the Baltics, accounting for 96% of Estonia’s renewable energy and 88% of Lithuania’s. At the other end of the table, Norway and Cyprus only used wood materials for 11% and 13% of their renewable energy needs respectively.  Continue reading

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Biomass ‘insanity’ may threaten EU carbon targets

Cross-Posted from Euractive.com,  02 April 2012

The EU’s emissions reduction target for 2020 could be facing an unlikely but grave obstacle, according to a growing number of scientists, EU officials and NGOs: the contribution of biomass to the EU’s renewable energy objectives for 2020.

On 29 March, a call was launched at the European Parliament for Brussels to reconsider its carbon accounting rules for biomass emissions, and EurActiv has learned that the issue is provoking widespread alarm in policy-making circles.

“We’re paying people to cut their forests down in the name of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and yet we are actually increasing them. No-one is apparently bothering to do any analysis about this,” one Brussels insider told EurActiv.

“They’re just sleepwalking into this insanity,” he added.

Around half of the EU’s target for providing 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 will be made up by biomass energy from sources such as wood, waste and agricultural crops and residues, according to EU member states’ national action plans.

Wood makes up the bulk of this target and is counted by the EU as ‘carbon neutral’, giving it access to subsidies, feed-in tariffs and electricity premiums at national level.

But because there is a time lag between the carbon debt that is created when a tree is cut down, transported and combusted – and the carbon credit that occurs when a new tree has grown to absorb as much carbon as the old one – biomass will increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the interim.

Carbon neutrality

“It is wrong to assume that bio-energy is ‘carbon neutral’ by definition, it depends what you replace it with” Professor Detlef Sprinz, the Chairman of the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency (EEA) told EurActiv.

“If you replace a growing forest by energy crops under the current accounting rules of the EU, you may very well increase greenhouse gas emissions.”

An opinion of the EEA’s Scientific Committee last September, argued that “legislation that encourages substitution of fossil fuels by bioenergy, irrespective of the biomass source, may even result in increased carbon emissions – thereby accelerating global warming.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also says that biomass can only be considered carbon neutral if all land use impacts have been considered first.

The EU is aware of the issue and a proposal that could impose binding criteria for biomass for energy production, delayed many times, had been expected later this year but may be delayed again.

Forest-rich Scandinavian countries oppose binding biomass criteria – Finland and Sweden produce 20% and 16% of their energy from biomass – while industrial interests tend to support criteria that ignore combustion emissions and carbon stock losses from burning wood.

Sustainability criteria are one climate area in which the US leads Europe. The Environmental Protection Agency there has already conducted a public consultationon how to account for emissions from biomass burning, and submitted a legislative proposal.

EU despair

Several EU officials spoken to by EurActiv expressed despair at the lack of enthusiasm for tougher accounting rules by the EU’s energy directorate, which holds the biomass portfolio.

“I don’t think they have any intention of considering the carbon emissions from wood combustion. They are not convinced that it’s an important enough issue,” one said.

Asked whether the current pattern of biomass production and use would prevent a 20% reduction of carbon emissions by 2020, he replied “the certainty is 100% because there is hardly any [wood-based] biomass that wouldn’t increase emissions. The question is for how long?”

There are no reliable accounting figures measuring the length of time that Europe will suffer a ‘carbon deficit’ caused by the use of biomass for energy, in particular harvesting timber for that.

But “the risk of having emissions for too long I think is very high,” the official said. “I see a very significant risk that we will increase emissions for several decades to come.”

Carbon deficit

There is consensus that when a carbon deficit extends beyond 30-50 years, it is no longer of use in the EU’s present strategy to decarbonise Europe by 2050.

One report last month by the US-based Southern Environmental Law Center using woody biomass for a modelled expansion of power generation, found that it would take 35-50 years to provide an ongoing carbon reduction benefit.

Biomass from composted waste or agricultural residues is a highly efficient way of reducing carbon emissions, but critics say that the EU has vague and ill-conceived definitions of what constitutes residue in many cases.

It does not, for instance, take into account the impact that removing crop residues such as straw can have in depleting the soil’s carbon stock, with resulting increases in fertiliser and irrigation use, and lower yields.

Equally, a felled tree instantly produces wood with a higher carbon footprint than coal because burning a 100-year-old tree will release all the carbon it has absorbed into the atmosphere, and it its replacement will take 100 years to reabsorb the same amount of carbon.

The EU’s current accounting rules do not distinguish between residues or woods used in this way, and more sustainable biomass, terming them both ‘carbon neutral’ without consideration of bio-recovery times .

“These calculations have just not been done,” an EU source told EurActiv. “No one has looked at this in sufficient seriousness.”

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European Commission Caves in to Industry Over Biofuel Rules – Global Forest Coalition Demands Precautionary Approach

Note:  GJEP is the North American Focal Point for Global Forest Coalition.

13 September, 2011–In a long-awaited announcement last week[1], the European Commission decided to entirely ignore the indirect climate impacts of agrofuels for up to seven more years. The Global Forest Coalition (GFC), a network of more than 50 NGOs and Indigenous Peoples Organisations worldwide, says the decision illustrates once more the absurdity of EU claims regarding “sustainable biofuels”.  GFC continues to call for the EU and EU member states to abolish biofuel targets and subsidies as the only way to prevent further disastrous consequences for forests, people and climate.

According to Commission minutes, the EU’s decision to ignore Indirect Land Use Change for the foreseeable future was due to ‘scientific uncertainties’.

“The EU claims to be committed to the Precautionary Principle, but this decision yet again flies in the face of precaution,” says Almuth Ernsting from Biofuelwatch, the European Focal Point of GFC. “First, they ignored all warnings when pushing through a 10% biofuel target. Now they are using scientific uncertainties as an excuse for once again caving in to the agrofuel industry. Under the precautionary principle, uncertainties over extent of harm caused by agrofuels means that targets and subsidies must be stopped – instead of giving the agrofuel industry the benefit of doubt.”

A recent study published in Environmental Research Letters concludes that “nearly 60% of Amazonian deforestation occurring between 2003 and 2020 will be attributable to ILUC [Indirect Land Use Change’ associated with biofuel production”[2].  Furthermore, a recent report by a High Level Expert Panel published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, illustrates the key role that biofuels played in recent food price rises, responsible for a steep increase in the number of people going hungry worldwide [3].

GFC’s chairperson Fiu Mata’ese Elisara, an Indigenous leader from Samoa states: “We have long recognized that, so long as demand continues to grow for soya, palm oil, sugar cane and other biofuel feedstocks, ‘sustainability standards’ will fail to address the problem. The increasing demand is driven by policies from Europe and North America that favour targets and subsidies. The result is pushing agricultural frontiers further into forests, grasslands, peat lands and other natural ecosystems. It also forms a significant factor in the current food price boom, which has lead to far more people being hungry and malnourished all over the world. The only way to prevent this destruction is for EU and member states to halt the targets and subsidies. Instead, they are choosing to turn a blind eye and ignore these impacts altogether.”

The EU Renewable Energy Directive, which includes a 10% biofuel target for transport, already ‘exempted’ all agrofuels produced in installations operating by the end of 2012 from any ‘penalties’ over their indirect impacts until the end of 2017 [4].  This belies the Commissions’ claim that its decision aims to protect existing investments, rather than supporting future agrofuel production.

The Commission has indicated that it is considering an increase in existing “greenhouse gas standards” for biofuels as an alternative to addressing indirect land use change. However, Global Forest Coalition and others have dismissed this approach because it is based on a false accounting of climate impacts – made worse by the Commission’s decision to continue ignoring the indirect impacts, which account for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels.

Contacts:

Simone Lovera, Global Forest Coalition+595-21-663654+595985593591

Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch+44-1224-324797

Notes:

[1] The Commission’s decision, with excerpts from minutes, was reported by Reuters on 8th September: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/09/08/us-eu-biofuels-idUKTRE7874NP20110908

[2] Statistical confirmation of indirect land use change in the Brazilian Amazon, Eugenio Y. Arima, Environmental Research Letters 6 (2011), 024010, http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/6/2/024010

[3] Price volatility and food security, a report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, July 2011, www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/hlpe/hlpe_documents/HLPE-price-volatility-and-food-security-report-July-2011.pdf

[4] Article 19(6) of the Renewable Energy Directive – Note that subsequent Guidance published by the Commission states that the term ‘installation’ applies not only to agrofuel refineries but even to palm oil, sugar cane or soya mills, which means that the ‘exemption’ would already have applied to agrofuels from most new refineries.

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