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Burning Wood As Renewable Energy Threatens Europe’s Climate Goals

Inside Climate News

Scientists say a new EU policy on biomass is ‘simplistic and misleading’ and will increase CO2 emissions. U.S. forests are being turned into wood pellets to feed demand.

The European Union declared this week that it could make deeper greenhouse gas cuts than it has already pledged under the Paris climate agreement. But its scientific advisors are warning that the EU’s new renewable energy policy fails to fully account for the climate impacts of burning wood for fuel.

By counting forest biomass, such as wood pellets used in power plants, as carbon-neutral, the new rules could make it impossible for Europe to achieve its climate goals, the European Academy of Sciences Advisory Council (EASAC) wrote in a strongly worded statement.

The council said the renewable energy policy‘s treatment of biomass is “simplistic and misleading” and could actually add to Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 to 30 years. […]

The Math Doesn’t Add Up

The countries in the Paris treaty have been encouraged to adopt new, more ambitious goals in the next few years to further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.

So, European nations, among the treaty’s strongest backers, have engaged in prolonged negotiations toward deeper emissions cuts. Over the past two weeks, they agreed to increase renewable energy to 32 percent of the power mix and set a goal of 32 percent energy efficiency savings.

The EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, told a meeting of environment leaders from Europe, Canada and China on Wednesday that the new policies would mean the European Union could increase its emissions reduction target from 40 percent to just over 45 percent by 2030.

But the renewable energy policy includes burning wood for fuel. Over a year ago, the EU’s science advisors published a comprehensive reportdebunking the logic behind treating all wood fuel as beneficial to the climate. Because burning wood gives off more CO2 than coal per unit of electricity produced, the climate math doesn’t add up, scientists say.

Large-scale forest harvests have a climate warming effect for at least 20 to 35 years, said University of Helsinki climate and forest scientist Jaana Bäck, who noted that scores of evidence-based studies all say basically the same thing.

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