Why burning primary woody biomass is worse than fossil fuels for climate

(EurActiv, 13 Dec 2022) In its current form, the EU’s renewable energy directives encourage the use of primary woody biomass from forests as an energy source. However, the directive gives a completely wrong picture of the associated greenhouse gas emissions, write a group of academics.

Klaus Josef Hennenberg and Hannes Böttcher are researchers at the Oeko-Institut in Berlin. Sampo Soimakallio is a researcher at the Finnish Environmental Institute, Helsinki. Edward Robinson is a consultant at Economy, Land and Climate Insight, London.

The debate around using wood from forests, so-called primary woody biomass, as a substitute for fossil fuels is a heated one but turns, essentially, on an obvious question: are the greenhouse gas emissions associated with either burning primary woody biomass as a source of fuel less than the emissions avoided by not using fossil fuels?

Remember, to qualify as a renewable energy source under the Renewable Energy Directive II(REDII), the emissions savings over fossil fuels must be at least 70% for new installations. The question is complicated because forests are sequesters of carbon with considerable roles to play in contributing to emissions reduction targets. Reducing their ability to sequester has a significant impact on carbon balances.

The problem is that the methodology currently used by REDII for judging greenhouse gas balances is far too narrow to provide an accurate answer and, as such, often gives the wrong answer, encouraging the harvesting of forest wood instead of the protection of forests (which would better serve the EU’s climate goals).

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EurActiv, 13 Dec 2022: Why burning primary woody biomass is worse than fossil fuels for climate