Bioenergy: Bad for Forests, Climate, Biodiversity and Communities

New Study Warns Use of Trees for Bioenergy Production Will Worsen Climate Change

by Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project

The U.S. Social Forum in Detroit last week ended with an action challenging the world’s largest trash incinerator–located in the heart of one of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods.

While the toxic legacy of incinerating trash is coming under intensifying scrutiny, however, plans are ramping up across the US and Europe to incinerate trees for so-called “bioenergy” production.  This practice of turning standing forests and living trees into electricity, which also pollutes communities in the vicinity of the incinerator, is also being challenged by groups that foresee the impacts of exponentially increasing the global demand for wood for bioenergy production.

A new report was released today by Birdlife International, European Environmental Bureau and Transport and Environment titled “Bioenergy: A Carbon Accounting Time Bomb”.  This report’s summary explains, “The carbon debt created when woody biomass is burned takes centuries to pay off.  The result is that biomass can be more harmful to the climate than the fossil fuels it replaces.”

It continues, “While recovering waste biomass can have short term emission reduction benefits, increasing the harvesting of standing forests will mostly lead to worsening of the climate crisis–and that is before even starting to look at other impacts such as biodiversity loss or increased erosion.”

The report also warns about the impacts of converting forests to biofuel crops, “Growing biofuels on agricultural land results in the conversion of forests and other natural areas into cropland to replace those agricultural lands lost to biofuel production.  This results in related emissions that can completely negate any climate benefits.”

The summary of this report can be downloaded by clicking here.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is rushing headlong into support for production of bioenergy from trees with financial subsidies–awarding $4.2 million to various projects that will harvest wood for bioenergy production from U.S. national forest lands.  This continues the trend of the U.S. Forest Service which has historically subsidized logging operations and timber harvests from our public forest lands.  Since its founding in 2005, the Forest Service Woody Biomass Utilization grant program has awarded a total of $30.6 for biomass projects.

The World Economic Forum is also not surprisingly singing the praises of bioenergy.  The WEF is promoting the myth that biorefineries have a major role to play in tackling climate change, in their new report “The Future of Industrial Biorefineries” that was launched today. The report was produced in collaboration with Royal DSM N.V., Novozymes, DuPont and Braskem.  You can find the WEF release by clicking here.

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