Photographer: Freya Ingrid Morales/Bloomberg

Burning Wood Criticized as 'Absurd' as EU Mulls Clean-Energy Law

  • EU should limit bioenergy sources to waste, green lobbies say
  • European Parliament to discuss draft renewables law this month

Europe must prevent using trees and crops as a way to meet renewable-energy requirements or it will risk further increases in food prices, deforestation and land grabs, environmental groups said.

The warning comes as the European Union’s governments and the European Parliament are discussing a draft law that aims to accelerate the shift to clean energy by 2030. The proposal upholds the current rules under which power from burning biomass such as wood pellets counts toward green-energy goals and can be subsidized by governments.

Companies across Europe, including the U.K.’s Drax Group Plc and Poland’s PGE SA, benefit from aid to use biomass in order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions produced from coal. Governments have no obligation to report how much is spent on subsidies for the so-called co-firing, which amount to “burning taxpayers’ money,” lobbies including WWF Europe, Oxfam, BirdLife Europe and Transport & Environment said.

“EU policies are absurd from a resource-efficiency point of view,” Linde Zuidema, campaigner at the FERN forest-protection lobby, told reporters in Brussels on Thursday. Wood is the single biggest source of renewable energy in the EU and the bloc’s policies have led to growing forest harvest, she said.

Drax already complies with the U.K.’s sustainability policy, said Matt Willey, a spokesman at the Selby, England generator.

“Biomass must be sustainably sourced from working forests where biodiversity is protected, productivity is maintained, and growth exceeds what is harvested,” Willey said by email.

The 28-nation EU wants to lead the fight against global warming, which scientist blame for more frequent heat waves, storms and floods. It aims to cut carbon discharges by at least 40 percent by 2030 and boost the share of renewables to at least 27 percent.

Under the draft renewable-energy law, the European Commission wants the production of advanced biofuels for transport to rise to 6.8 percent by 2030 from 1.5 percent in 2021. At the same time, the share of food- and crop-based alternative fuels would shrink next decade to not more than 3.8 percent from up to 7 percent.

Europe’s biofuels market is dominated by crop biodiesel, which is worse for the climate than fossil diesel and increasingly comes from palm oil and other important vegetable oils, according to the Transport & Environment group.

“In many ways wood is just very fresh coal,” Alex Mason, senior policy officer at WWF, said. EU policy makers should make the sustainability criteria for bioenergy more stringent, he said.

— With assistance by Mathew Carr, and Andrew Reierson

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