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article imageEU directive to use wood as fuel source will increase emissions

By Karen Graham     Sep 12, 2018 in World
Europe's decision to promote the use of wood as a "renewable fuel" will likely greatly increase Europe's greenhouse gas emissions and cause severe harm to the world's forests, according to a new paper published in Nature Communications.
There is nothing wrong with a country trying to double the use of renewable energy sources by 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - but encouraging the use of wood as a low-carbon fuel source is certainly questionable. But this is what the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive seems to be saying.
And this means that whole trees or large portions of trees can be cut down deliberately to burn. Such uses go beyond papermaking wastes and other wood wastes, which have long been used for bioenergy.
Earlier this summer, European officials agreed on the final language for the directive, even though in January this year, 800 scientists condemned the plan in a written letter. The scientists urged the European Parliament to omit a flaw “that would let countries, power plants, and factories claim credit toward renewable energy targets for deliberately cutting down trees to burn them for energy.”
Deforestation worsens climate change by releasing carbon stored in trees into the atmosphere  and pr...
Deforestation worsens climate change by releasing carbon stored in trees into the atmosphere, and preventing forests, or “carbon sinks,” from absorbing greenhouse gases for decades at a time.
U.S. Forestry Service
New paper explains why the directive is flawed
In a letter co-authored by eight scientists from the United States and Europe, and published in the journal Nature Communications on September 12, they write that the bioenergy provision in the Renewable Energy Directive will lead to the vast new cutting of the world's forests.
They point out that additional wood equal to all of Europe's existing wood harvests will be needed just to supply 5 percent of Europe's energy. Perhaps more importantly, the paper says that using wood for energy will likely result in an increase of 10 to 15 percent in emissions from Europe’s energy use by 2050.
To put it bluntly, this means turning a 5 percent decrease in emissions required under the directive using solar energy or wind energy would, instead, turn into a 5 to 10 percent increase by using wood.
It would be bad enough for the environment to cut Europe's forests to provide fuel for energy, but the researchers looked at the bigger picture. The global impact of such a move would be encouraging other countries to do the same, and that is not a good idea. As it is, countries like Brazil and Indonesia have already announced they, too, will try to reduce the effect of climate change by increasing their use of wood for bioenergy.
The EU and Poland are also at odds over its logging in Bialowieza forest  a world heritage site that...
The EU and Poland are also at odds over its logging in Bialowieza forest, a world heritage site that includes some of Europe's last primeval woodland
JANEK SKARZYNSKI, AFP/File
“Globally, if the world were to supply only an additional 2 percent of its energy from wood, it would need to double commercial wood harvests around the world with harsh effects on forests,” said study lead author Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a lecturer in the Princeton Environmental Institute.
And as the letter explains, "Once countries and powerful private companies become invested in such efforts, further expansion will become harder to stop. The effect can already be seen in the United States, where Congress in both 2017 and 2018 added provisions to annual spending bills declaring nearly all forest biomass carbon free—although environmentalists have so far fought to limit the legal effects to a single year."
The paper also explains why the European directive’s sustainability conditions would have little consequence. Even if trees are cut down “sustainably,” that does not make the wood carbon free or low carbon because of added carbon in the atmosphere for such long periods of time.
One thousand Norwegian spruces  decorated with a red ribbon and planted in an Oslo forest clearing  ...
One thousand Norwegian spruces, decorated with a red ribbon and planted in an Oslo forest clearing, will provide the paper -- in 2114 -- for the "Future Library"
, AFP
Finally, the paper highlights how the policy undermines years of efforts to save trees by recycling used paper instead of burning them for energy. The paper’s warning that the use of wood will likely increase global warming for decades to centuries was also expressed by the European Academies Science Advisory Council in a commentary released June 15.
Co-author Bjart Holtsmark, Statistics Norway said, “Although the directive encourages countries to harvest wood to burn, it does not require that they do. Countries should follow alternative strategies, focusing on solar in meeting European requirements for more renewable energy.”
And co-author Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, with the Université Catholique de Louvain, puts it very succinctly, saying “European citizens once more experienced the harsh effects of global warming this summer. In the name of reversing climate change, this counterproductive policy will increase deforestation and carbon emissions rather than contribute to decreasing them. More emissions will only make the summers even hotter for decades to centuries.”
More about European union, Directive, wood as lowcarbon, increased emissions, Carbon