Swedish state-owned forest company Sveaskog has logged forest in the nature reserve Hedlandet where the wood will be used for bioenergy. Photo: Kristina Bäck.

In an open letter, 59 scientists from 17 countries write that forest biomass need to be removed from the Renewable Energy Directive (REDII), and that massive efforts to protect and restore forests are needed: “We can’t wait 100 years for trees to grow back – we need to reduce emissions now.”  

The open letter is a response to a US-signed open letter which advocated the use of biomass energy to EU leaders in February 2021. The 59 scientists point out that the burning of forest biomass emits more CO2 than the burning of fossil fuels. Even when the biomass is derived from low-diameter forestry residues that would otherwise decompose relatively quickly, net bioenergy emissions exceed those from fossil fuels for 10 – 20 years.  

The EU goal is net-zero emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050. In a critical time when emissions need to be reduced, harvesting and burning forest biomass instead moves carbon out of forests and into the atmosphere. Instead, the scientists in the open letter advocate massive effort to protect and restore forests and rebuild the EU’s forest carbon sink.  

The EU Joint Research Centre’s recent report on biomass, concluded that 23 of 24 biomass sources, of which were evaluated in the study, pose a risk to climate, biodiversity or both.  

The EU bioeconomy strategy and the increasing demand for forest resource will result in a continued increase of logged forests and decreased rotation periods. This will eventually lead to further decline in the conservation status and resilience of forest ecosystems.  

The scientists write in their open letter:  

”As the IPCC and climate scientists worldwide have shown, we need immediate reductions in atmospheric CO2 to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. In other words, the EU needs to grow forests, not burn them for energy. This requires removing forest biomass from the Renewable Energy Directive, which will also help allocating more subsidies for true renewables.”  

Read the open letter here.