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Bioenergy from Swedens' forests must not end up as aviation fuel. Foto: Manfred Irmer från Pixels

In year 2030, 30 per cent of the aviation fuel in Sweden will come from bioenergy, according to an investigation made by the Swedish politician Maria Wetterstrand (Green Party) and financed by the Swedish Energy Agency. The investigation disregards CO2 emissions from bioenergy and promotes increased clear-cutting of forests. Right now, many of the last unprotected natural forests in Sweden are being clear-cut.

Wetterstrand’s investigation suggests that the amount of bioenergy blended in Swedish fuel will increase successively from year 2021 to reach 100% bioenergy by year 2045. At the same time more and more scientists warn about the negative effects caused by bioenergy. But the Swedish forest industry and the Swedish government are not listening to this important message. Both Protect the Forest and Biofuelwatch have informed the Swedish government about the negative effects concerning bioenergy but have received no response. Protect the Forest proclaims that Wetterstrand’s investigation is a disappointment and that it gives the wrong signals.

According to Protect the Forest the government in Sweden must ensure that the aviation decreases and that the government promotes a greater investment in trains. Clear-cutting of boreal forests and increased aviation is worsening the global climate by adding more CO2 to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the investigation comes to the opposite conclusion, stating that replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy will lead to less CO2 in the future.

In Sweden many politicians and others advocate that residues from clear-cuttings can be used as bioenergy and they believe that the residues merely consist of branches and tops of trees. But the fact is that 10% of the bioenergy from Swedish forests consists of whole logs. The risk is that unprotected natural forests will be felled to be used as biofuel. Many such forests are unprotected today and are already being felled which is harming the biodiversity.

The Swedish government is not paying attention to the scientists although 800 international scientists have warned about bioenergy from forests. The CO2 which is let out during the clear-cutting of boreal forests may take a century to accumulate again.

Protect the Forest reckons that a higher efficiency in the use of electricity is required, that the consumption and manufacture of paper must decrease and that products from forests and other nature-resources must decrease massively. All remaining natural forests must be protected, not cut-down. There must also be a drive for recycling and restoration of forests.

Brussels, 18 June 2019

The European Commission has called for Member States to be more transparent about bioenergy use in their final National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). This underlines their current alarming lack of openness on the issue.

In the EU’s press conference today, Commissioner Cañete emphasised the gap in collective progress towards achieving the EU’s renewable energy target. He did not mention the importance of the policies and measures which will help achieve the target. Bioenergy currently provides more than 65 per cent of the EU’s renewable mix and is projected to continue increasing until 2030. This poses significant threats to nature, people and the climate, while seriously hampering the efficient use of limited resources.

“The Commission has mentioned a lack of transparency in reporting on bioenergy. The lack of information on the source of biomass poses a serious threat to biodiversity whilst the failure of Member States to address the overall volume of biomass used for energy production could undermine EU climate ambitions. Member States need to address these gaps in their final NECPs,” Luke Edwards from Birdlife Europe said.

Despite the grave threats from increased biomass use, NGOs’ initial analysis of the draft NECPs concludes that there is a major compliance gap. They fail to provide information on bioenergy, such as clear trajectories, the origin of biomass and its impacts on forests and land use, air quality and forest carbon sinks (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)).

“These national plans are vital if we are to hold countries to account for the negative impacts of using more biomass to produce energy. Impacts include reducing forests’ ability to mitigate climate change”, said Kelsey Perlman from Fern NGO.

“Despite clear requirements, Member States have not provided enough information to show the impact of their choices. Already we know that by 2030, five out of the EU’s six most forested countries will be less able to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is a disaster for the climate”, Perlman added. 

It is clear from the information provided so far that some Member States are planning a sharp increase in bioenergy use, but they do not say where the biomass will come from. Increasing reliance on biomass imports is problematic because its puts pressure on land use and forests globally. 

“EU Member States cannot continue to plan to increase their reliance on bioenergy when they have no concept of where it will come from or what its environmental impacts are. Year after year, on-the-ground investigations show a disturbing pattern: European energy giants burn wood harvested from native hardwood forests in global biodiversity hotspots, such as the U.S. Southeast,” said Sasha Stashwick from US NGO National Resources Defence Council (NRDC).

“Writing a blank cheque for more electricity from forest biomass without the required impact assessment risks increasing carbon emissions to the atmosphere for decades and diverts scarce resources from genuine zero-emission technologies, such as solar and wind.”

"Some of the plans submitted by Member States still show a strong dependency on food-based biofuels, which have very negative climate and environmental impacts due to land use change. The Commission has missed an opportunity and should encourage Member States to focus on cleaner and more sustainable energy sources for transport whilst eliminating their reliance on crop biofuels." Cristina Mestre from Transport and Environment said.

Following recommendations from the European Commission, EU Member States now have to step up the ambition of their climate plans so as to commit to reaching climate and energy targets. They must also disclose information about their underlying policies and measures such as those related to bioenergy.

Further reading

In a letter to the European Parliament, 800 scientists warned in January last year that bioenergy using wood deliberately harvested for burning will increase carbon in the atmosphere and increase warming for between decades and centuries even if they are used to replace fossil fuels.
Fern report Covered in Smoke, Why burning biomass threatens European health.
Fern briefing Burning trees for energy is no solution to climate change.
ECF report Carbon impacts of biomass consumed in the EU.

Sveaskog is planning to clear-cut a 200 year old forest at Melakträskliden in Arvidsjaurs communty. Foto: Björn Mildh

”We are deeply concerned about the state-owned company Sveaskog which is clear-cutting and planning to clear-cut forests with high natural values”. 12 Swedish NGO’s have written an open letter to Sveaskog, Swedish authorities and the government ministers Ibrahim Baylan, Minister of Enterprise and Innovation, Isabella Lövin, the Minister for Environment and Jennie Nilsson, the Minister of Rural Affairs.

A collection of examples of threatened natural forests from the counties of Norrbotten, Västerbotten and Dalarna is included in the letter. These forests are only a small collection of all the forests with high natural values which Sveaskog is planning to clear-cut. The NGOs call for protection of all of Sveaskogs’ natural forests with high biodiversity.  David van der Spoel, spokesperson of Protect the Forest, states:

“Forests with high natural values should be protected not logged. We demand that the government lowers the revenue return of Sveaskog so this can be possible. Natural forests should be preserved for the climate since the boreal forest accumulates carbon in the ground. Natural forests also need to be protected for biodiversity since about 1 800 species forest living species are red-listed in Sweden. The forests which are mentioned in the open letter are just examples, there are many more”. 

The potential of reaching national and international environmental goals is rapidly decreasing. Researchers say that at least 20 per cent of the productive forest in Sweden needs long-term protection, today only 5 per cent forest is formally protected.  Björn Mildh, who has been actively engaged for protecting threatened forests for many years and is a member of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, states:

“Sveaskog has a noticeable lack of forest ready to cut because of previous over-logging. Despite the fact that the company is state-owned- that is to say owned by the Swedish citizens, ambitions about conservation have been abandoned in favor of a comparatively brutal forestry. They clear-cut both natural forests near mountains and forests in the Sami-villages’ core-areas which are of national interest. This is done in an attempt to feed sawmills and industry with wood.”  

To log forests with high conservation values strides against the Paris-agreement where the focus is to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. If boreal natural forests are clear-cut the carbon dioxide which is sequestered in the ground will be released to the atmosphere and contribute to the greenhouse effect. It is also not in line with the UN’s Aichi goals to clear-cut natural forest with red-listed species. Pia Björstrand, spokesperson in the NGO Climate Action- one of the organizations which has signed the open letter, states:  

“It should be prohibited to clear-cut old-growth forests considering the situation of emergency which prevails now. The benefits in using such forests for products does not up-weigh the loss of biodiversity and the negative consequences for the climate which occur when the forest is clear-cut.” 

The open letter is a part of the campaign Vår Skog (translated: Our Forest) addressed to Sveaskog, initiated and supported by 23 Swedish environmental organizations. The campaign demands that Sveaskog protects all of its threatened natural forests with preservation values and over 40 000 people have signed a petition. Representatives from Greenpeace, Protect the Forest, Climate Action, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and many more have signed the open letter to Sveaskog. The open letter, which is in Swedish,  can be downloaded here. The collection of examples of threatened natural forests, which is in Swedish, can be downloaded here

 

Photos from three de-registered woodland key habitats at Gällsjöberget and Högvedsberget in Sweden. Many red-listed species have been found in these valuable forests. Photos: Elin Götmark and Helena Björnström.

Sweden’s last remaining unprotected old-growth forests are under immediate pressure due to the government’s poor management of the state-owned forests. A new report shows that the state-owned forest company Sveaskog de-registers woodland key habitats, which are crucial for red-listed forest species. These forests are now at risk of being clear-cut. At the same time a campaign organized by all Swedish environmental organizations has delivered a petition signed by 45,000 Swedes, demanding that the Swedish state changes Sveaskog's instructions.

"Sweden likes to project an image of its so-called environmentally sustainable forestry, but in fact this is mostly greenwashing", says Elin Götmark, spokesperson for Protect the Forest Sweden.

"The conversion of Sweden's natural, mostly old-growth forest ecosystems into industrial monocultures still continues. But so does the fight to save the remaining unprotected natural forests. According to the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, we should protect at least 17% of all productive forest, and the EU Habitats Directive demands that the western taiga should have a favorable conservation status. We are far from reaching these goals, and the forests needed to meet them are logged every day", says Elin Götmark.

The report The old-growth forests threatened by the Swedish state by Protect the Forest Sweden and Greenpeace Sweden shows how Sveaskog has de-registered known woodland key habitats. Some of these forests are surveyed in the report, and many of them have been found to have high conservation value. Some of them are also registered to be logged. This means that customers who buy Sveaskog’s products marked with the FSC certification-label are misled, since the FSC standard forbids clear-cutting of woodland key habitats.

In accordance with the instructions issued by the Swedish government, Sveaskog’s primary obligation is to create a profit. This creates a strong incentive to prioritize logging over conservation, even in forests with high conservation value. A campaign organized by twenty-three Swedish environmental organizations in recent months has gathered many examples of forests with high conservation value that Sveaskog has clear-cut or planned to do so.

"Sweden's forests and its habitats are at a critical state, the campaign 'Our Forest' demands that the government alters Sveaskog's instructions so that they can start to prioritize nature conservation over profit", says Lina Burnelius, spokesperson for forest and bio-economic issues at Greenpeace.

"The last remaining unprotected high conservation value forests we have left here need to be protected. These forests contain biological values - and carbon storages - that cannot be preserved if the Swedish state, via Sveaskog, continues to log them. Today’s conversion from natural forest to monocultures needs to stop - neither climate nor biodiversity can handle this high rate of clear-cuts”, says Lina Burnelius.

“We demand that the forest industry makes it possible for us to actually meet our national and international environmental agreements. Forests are our natural climate solution - but only if the little that remains of our natural forest is protected instead of logged. If we are to reach the 1.5 degree target the last natural forests must be protected”, says Lina Burnelius.

It is not only on Sveaskog's land that biodiversity is threatened: a nation-wide inventory of Swedish woodland key habitats has recently been stopped by political parties with support of the government. Now when these areas are no longer being identified on official maps, FSC products from woodland key habitats are at risk of being sold to unaware customers worldwide.

"In canceling this inventory, the Swedish state is breaching its international obligations to preserve biodiversity”, says Elin Götmark.

Press contacts:

Elin Götmark, spokesperson for Protect the Forest,
+46706787423, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Lina Burnelius, spokesperson for forest and bio-economic issues, Greenpeace
+46722144360, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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