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.