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Press release from FERN, March 4, 2019:

In a landmark lawsuit to be filed today against the European Union, plaintiffs from five European Member States, including Romania, Ireland, Slovakia, France and Estonia are charging that the EU’s 2018 Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) will devastate forests and increase greenhouse gas emissions by promoting burning forest wood as renewable and carbon neutral. 

The legal case, which will be filed in the European General Court in Luxembourg, cites scientific evidence that wood-burning power plants pump more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere per unit of energy than coal plants. The EU policy does not count the CO2 emissions from burning biomass fuels for heat or energy, making it appear that they are more climate-friendly than fossil fuels. The plaintiffs are asking the Court to annul the forest biomass provisions of RED II in order to render the burning of forest wood ineligible for meeting EU Member State renewable energy targets and subsidies. 

“The EU’s policy relies on the false and reckless assumption that burning forest wood is carbon neutral,” said Dr. Mary S. Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, and lead science advisor on the case. “However, scientists from around the world, including the EU’s own science advisors, warned that burning forest wood actually increases emissions relative to fossil fuels.”    

“The lawsuit we are filing today alleges the EU’s policy fails to comply with nearly all of the principles for environmental policy that are laid out in the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, including that policy should be based on science, address climate change, and embrace the principle that polluters pay,” said Raul Cazan, with 2Celsius in Romania, one of the NGO plaintiffs. “It’s hard to imagine a more counter-productive policy than burning forests for fuel.”   

“We’re in a climate emergency that the EU is exacerbating by treating forests, virtually our only carbon sink, as fuel,” said Peter Lockley, legal counsel for the plaintiffs. “This favored treatment is expanding forest cutting, which in turn is impacting peoples’ property, rights, and livelihoods. It’s vital that people affected by this damaging law are allowed to come before the EU court to challenge it.” 

In accordance with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations for maintaining a livable climate, the European Commission has called for a climate-neutral EU by 2050, requiring the balancing of greenhouse gas emissions and uptake into carbon sinks, mostly forests, by that point. Under RED II, the EU is required to generate at least 32 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, to help reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent in comparison to 1990 levels.  

However, biomass energy is a large and growing part of EU’s renewable energy mix. In 2016, nearly half the renewable energy produced in the EU came from burning woody biomass, and demand is expected to increase with RED II.  

Read the full press release here.

 

For more information about the case and a background on each of the plaintiffs, go to www.eubiomasscase.org

 

 Photo: Manfred Irmer from Pixels.

By 2030, 30 percent of the aviation fuel used in Sweden will consist of biofuels. This is proposed by the investigator Maria Wetterstrand appointed by the Swedish Government. The new investigation pays no attention to that biofuels emit carbon dioxide and that increased harvesting threatens biodiversity.

By 2021, one percent of the aviation fuel in Sweden should be made of biofuel. The amount of biofuel will then gradually increase so that by 2030, the amount is 30 percent. The investigation proposes that the target should reach 100 percent renewable fuels by 2045.

An increasing number of scientists warn about the negative effects of biofuels. Protect the Forest and Biofuelwatch UK/US have informed Maria Wetterstrand about this. However, Protect the Forest implies that the investigation is a disappointment which sends the wrong signal. The Government must ensure that the number of flights is significantly reduced and that larger investments are made on increased rail traffic. 

Kristina Bäck from Protect the Forest says:

”It is not possible to continue to fly as usual and advocate increased harvesting and use of biofuels to mitigate climate change. It is far from sustainable. Logging boreal forests and increasing the combustion of biofuels exacerbates global warming.”

However, the investigation has, according to Protect the Forest, incorrectly found that biofuel conversion will lead to reduced emissions in the future. The air travel is also expected to increase, not decrease. Using logging residues from forestry as biofuel is advocated. However, 10 percent of all bioenergy from the forest in Sweden comes from whole trees, not residues. There is a risk that logged natural forests may become biofuel.

Protect the Forest is concerned that the Government does not adhere to the science. Almost 800 scientists warn that forest biofuels emit more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels. The scientists write that if forests are harvested for bioenergy, even if it is done in a sustainable way, and if forests are allowed to regrow, carbon dioxide is emitted. The warming impact can last for decades up to a century.

Protect the Forest states that the number of flights as well as the energy consumption need to decrease radically. Kristina Bäck says:

“We log forests that sequester carbon dioxide to get biofuels which emit carbon dioxide when burnt. The last unprotected natural forests in Sweden are in risk of being logged in order to become aviation fuel and short-lived products. It is greenwashing to call this sustainable .”

Protect the Forest states that, in addition to energy efficiency, the consumption and production of paper, forest products and other natural resources must be greatly reduced in favor of reuse and recycling.

The Swedish Energy Agency is commissioned to analyze whether financial support is needed for investment or operational development of production facilities with new technology. This is initially presumed to be costly.

“This means that taxpayers will subsidize increased flying on behalf of our forests”, says David van der Spoel, spokesperson of Protect the Forest.

The climate is used as a pretext to increase forest harvests. Photo: Pixabay

Protect the Forest gives feedback on European Commission’s initiative to step up EU action against deforestation and forest degradation. The NGO calls on the EU to prevent forest companies from logging high conservation value forests and to establish large-scale tree plantations.

The growing European demand of biofuel crops increase the need of agricultural land, converting valuable habitats and displacing other crops, with serious impacts on food security and significant greenhouse gas emissions from land use change as a result.

Sweden and Finland promote their commercial forestry as sustainable and export it as a good example to producer countries in the tropics which lead to forest degradation. The Swedish and Finnish forest industries are, among others, strong lobbyists and use the climate as a pretext to increase their forest harvest, production and economic rates. By endorsing a so called bioeconomy, natural forests are systematically clear-cut and replaced by even-aged tree plantations, poor of species, to acquire alleged sustainable wood products and bioenergy.

Protect the Forest calls on the European Commission to, among other things:

• Stop the global destruction and felling of primary and natural forests. Protect the remaining peatland forests, old-growth forests and other high conservation value forests (HCVFs).

• Develop a strong legislation to ensure that imported agricultural and forest commodities to the EU are produced without causing deforestation and violating indigenous peoples’ rights.

• Immediately impose trade sanctions on any commodity being produced in areas where indigenous groups and territories are under threat from increased deforestation and genocide. Brazil is at the moment a high-risk country. Boycott products from conflict areas, such as soy from the mid-eastern part of Brazil.

• Immediately stop subsidizing forest and farming activities that contribute to deforestation and the cutting of natural forest. Restrict the trade of meat, soy and palm oil.

• Ban the import and use of palm oil, palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD) and soy oil in transport fuels in the EU.

• Introduce a tax on commodities based on their ecological footprint.

• Specify definitions and clear terms for so called ‘sustainable’ forestry and agricultural practices, which consider socio-ecological economics and policies that operate within the planetary boundaries. Today, arbitrary and vague definitions of the word ‘sustainable’ mislead and promote clear-cutting practices and increased expansion of tree plantations, which harm the biodiversity, offset greenhouse gases, and damage soil and water resources.

• Impose sanctions on EU companies that conduct industrial-scale commercial logging operations in HCVFs and establish monoculture tree plantations.

• Support the creation and implementation of the 200 million hectare Andes-Amazon-Atlantic Corridor to safeguard biodiversity and people, proposed by Amazonian indigenous leaders at the CBD COP14 in Egypt 2018.

• Promote forest restoration by favoring natural regeneration & natural forests, not monocultures.

• Support the use of nature-oriented and continuous cover forestry in forest areas without high conservation values in order to cause less detrimental effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services, and to minimize the release of greenhouse gases from the forest.

• Introduce incentives to reduce the consumption of paper, forest products and other natural resources as well as reducing energy consumption and use. Promote energy efficiency and recycling.

The economic value of intact forests is far greater than the value of commodities especially in terms of providing functional ecosystem services in the long run. The EU supply chains must be free from deforestation and human rights violations. Voluntary commitments are not sufficient enough. The planetary boundaries for biodiversity and climate are already exceeded and catastrophic consequences are ahead if stringent biodiversity and climate mitigation measures are not urgently taken.

Read Protect the Forest's feedback on the EU-kommissionens plan here (short version). Read a longer version of the feedback here.

Pressrelease from Biofuelwatch:

Paris, 28th February 2019 – An Open Letter by 46 environmental NGOs and networks from 19 countries was delivered to French Environment Minister, François de Rugy today, urging the government to rule out permission to convert Cordemais power station or any other coal plant to biomass and to ensure that France’s four coal power stations are shut down no later than 2021. Signatories include Friends of the Earth International, the Global Forest Coalition, European Environment Bureau, and organisations from three of the world’s largest wood pellet producing countries. The groups warn that EDF’s biomass conversion proposals are not compatible with the French government’s commitment to meet the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, which is to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees. EDF proposes to convert Cordemais power station to burning mostly wood pellets alongside coal, which runs counter to the government’s previous announcement to end all coal burning by the end of 2021.

The Open Letter is being published ahead of a report by the French grid operator RTE into energy security across Western France. The signatories believe that energy security concerns must be addressed through greater investments in energy efficiency, as well as in wind and solar power, not by locking France into more years of high-carbon electricity generation.

The signatories emphasise that voiding the worst impacts of climate change requires rapidly phasing out fossil fuel burning without resorting to other high-carbon, polluting forms of energy, such as electricity from forest biomass.

EDF proposed to burn a special type of pellets made from waste wood in Cordemais and possibly Le Havre, however those claims have been debunked in a report published by the UK/US NGO Biofuelwatch (1).

Almuth Ernsting, author of the report, states: “EDF is speaking about producing steam-exploded pellets to burn in Cordemais. Such pellets have so far been burned in just one coal power station worldwide, in Canada, where they caused rapid corrosion, which could have put workers’ safety at serious risk of explosion had the plant not be shut down in time. EDF must know that this cannot work and that they would have to resort to normal pellets made from virgin wood.” (2)

Katja Garson from Fern, one of the groups that initiated the Open Letter, adds: “To convert Cordemais power station to biomass, EDF will almost certainly have to import large quantities of wood pellets from regions such as the southern US, where pellet companies are sourcing from the clearcutting of highly biodiverse coastal hardwood forests and from forest conversion to sterile monoculture tree plantations – or from countries such as Estonia, where forests are being cleared much faster than they can regrow, causing irreversible losses to wildlife and reducing communities’ quality of life.” (3)

As the Open Letter points out, the concept that burning forest biomass is inherently carbon neutral or low carbon has been debunked by hundreds of scientists. (4)

Read the Open Letter here.

(1) See biofuelwatch.org.uk/2018/edf-conversions-briefing/

(2) Steam exploded wood pellets made from virgin wood (which is less corrosive than chemically treated waste wood) were burned at the converted Thunderbay power station in Ontario. Once converted, the plant operated at just 2% of its capacity, generating electricity at 25 times the cost of other biomass power plants ( tvo.org//article/current-affairs/why-arent-northwestern-ontarios-state-of-the-art-energy-facilities-producing-any-energy). It was then shut down due to severe corrosion (cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/thunder-bay-gs-close-1.4764057). Corrosion can cause explosions in power stations.

(3) For background information about the impact of the pellet industry in the southern US, the world’s biggest pellet producing region, see dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/NRDC_2014-2017Booklet_DigitalVersion-resize.pdf and reports.climatecentral.org/pulp-fiction/2/ . For background information about unsustainable logging practices in Estonia, see climatechangenews.com/2018/01/16/logging-surge-threatens-quarter-estonias-forest-warn-conservationists/ and news.mongabay.com/2017/10/estonias-trees-valued-resource-or-squandered-second-chance/

(4) See a letter to the European signed by 800 scientists: dropbox.com/s/l8sx5bl0h02x395/UPDATE%20800%20signatures_Scientist%20Letter%20on%20EU%20Forest%20Biomass.pdf?dl=0

Large clear-cut conducted by Swedish state-owned company Sveaskog. Photo: Björn Mildh

The Swedish Parliament has recently voted for a budget which reduces the environmental and climate funds with SEK 2 billion (EUR 200 million). “A disaster which deliberately undermines national and international environmental targets”, states the Swedish environmental NGO Protect the Forest.

David van der Spoel, spokesperson for Protect the Forest, comments:

“Instead of protecting the last remaining unprotected natural forests in Sweden, these forests will now be logged in order to become pulp and biofuels. Both the biodiversity and the climate are put at risk, and in the long term it will also affect us human beings. Short-sightedness prevails.” 

Sweden generally considers itself to be progressive and world leading when it comes to environmental issues. The annual budget for 2019 shows the opposite, as the environmental part is reduced with SEK 2 billion (18 %). The part of the budget which is allocated to protecting valuable nature is reduced by approximately 50 %. It was presented in December by the conservative Swedish Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats and supported by the far-right party Sweden Democrats. Protect the Forest is dismayed and predicts increased logging of high conservation value forests.

”The budget undoubtedly favors both the forest industry and the aviation industry. Using palm oil from the tropics and forest biofuels from the boreal region to fuel air travels will lead to huge greenhouse gas emissions with devastating consequences for the climate. The biodiversity of the forest ecosystem is already deeply threatened and there is no more room for large-scale clear-cuts and species poor tree plantations,” says David van der Spoel.

The reduced environmental budget includes less economic compensation to land owners for forest protection, less new nature reserves, a VAT increase for nature tourism guides, and less support to companies that make climate investments. The nationwide inventory of woodland key habitats, i.e. high conservation value forests where red-listed species occur or are expected to occur, will be canceled. The tax on flights is abolished, which will most likely lead to increased flights and an increase in the demand of biofuels. 

Sweden is the world’s third largest exporter of paper, pulp and wood products. The reduced funding for nature conservation is due to a strong forest industry and its lobby work.  

“This budget clearly meets the economic interests of the forest industry which seemingly is more important than achieving environmental targets, safeguarding biodiversity and protecting forests. We urge the rest of the world to put pressure on the Swedish government and forest industry to take their responsibility to resume the inventories of woodland key habitats, to safeguard all remaining forests with high conservation values and to phase out the clear-cut forestry in favour of more continuous forest cover methods,” says Michael Nilsson, board member of Protect the Forest.

Protect the Forest concludes that trading with Swedish forest products is a risky business which discourages and counteracts climate mitigation efforts, forest protection, environmental targets and the Paris agreement. 

Contact:

David van der Spoel, spokesperson, Protect the Forest, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +46 70 315 70 44