Burning wood for “green” power? No thanks!

Uniper biomass power plant This was once a forest – and soon to be “green” power. (© Gaetan Hutter)

The EU is currently deciding on the expansion of renewable energy until 2030, with wood slated as the main biofuel. With Europe’s forests in a sad state, we need to stop even more trees from going up in smoke in the name of “green” power. Please sign our petition and speak out against the EU’s misguided biofuels policy!

News and updates Call to action

To: The European Commission, Parliament, Council of Ministers and the governments of the 28 Member States

“Europe wants to rely even more heavily on forests for the production of wood as fuel, to the detriment of nature. Stop the EU’s misguided bioenergy policy!”

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Imagine a gigantic cube of logs measuring nearly 760 meters (almost half a mile) on each side. That’s how much wood the European Union (EU) burns every every year to generate heat and electricity.

Europe wants to promote renewable energy in order to protect the climate and give the economy a boost. But while the media focus on wind, hydropower and solar energy, two thirds of Europe's renewable energy is in fact generated using biomass. Almost 440 million cubic meters of wood and wood waste are used annually as fuel, making up the bulk of the EU’s renewable energy.

Wood harvesters leave nothing behind: they also shred branches and twigs, and in some cases even pull stumps out of the ground using heavy machinery. Rich ecosystems are thus being degraded to barren commercial forests. And trees are not only being felled in Europe: the EU's hunger for biofuel is also being fed by overseas timber plantations and wood pellet imports.

Europe’s forests are degrading steadily, as documented by annual forest status reports. Three-quarters of all animal and plant species and habitats are in an unsatisfactory state according to the German Ministry of the Environment. Biodiversity is in danger of collapse.

Burning trees on a massive scale is anything but environmentally friendly or good for the climate, as 800 scientists have written to the EU. After all, it is very doubtful whether the forests that are going up in smoke today will ever be allowed to grow back and store carbon in the future.

Instead of gearing them toward wood production, we need to ensure that forests are managed in the most natural state possible. Old trees and deadwood are vital habitat and at least five percent of all forest area should remain untouched.

Please sign our petition to protect our forests and their inhabitants.


The EU’s renewable energy policy

The European Union (EU) wants to promote economic growth by expanding renewable sources of energy. These should account for at least 20% of Europe's final energy consumption by 2020, as the EU decided in 2009 with the Renewable Energy Directive. It is currently negotiating the implementation of the climate and energy policy framework agreed in 2014, which aims to increase its share to 27% by 2030.

But what do these plans mean for nature, and above all for the forests?

In 2015, 440 million cubic meters of biomass – mainly wood – was used in the EU for energy production. In Germany, with an estimated 80 million cubic meters (2010), more wood is already being burnt to generate heat and electricity than is being used for furniture, paper or packaging (76 million cubic meters per year).

The EU countries are importing more and more wood, mainly in the form of wood chips and pellets, for energy production. 21.7 million tons of imported wood chips are burnt annually to generate energy, while around 6.6 million tons of pellets are imported from North America and 1.4 million tons from Russia and Ukraine. Around the world, machines are shredding forests into wood chips and pellets to cover Europe’s energy needs.

The burning of wood not only releases the carbon bound in the trees, the smoke and particulate matter released is a major health hazard that can cause serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer, asthma and other conditions. Thousands of people – up to 40,000 in Europe alone according to scientific studies – die every year as a result.

How are our forests doing?

In the EU, forests, forests and wood plantations cover some 182 million hectares. Most are commercial forests that are predominantly geared to productivity and profitability, i.e. maximum timber production in the shortest possible time.

Ecologically, Europe’s commercial forests are in a desolate state, offering comparatively few animal and plant species habitat and food. This is also reflected in the EU’s environmental studies. The European Commission’s report The State of Nature in the EU comes to the conclusion that three-quarters of all animal and plant species and habitats are in unsatisfactory or poor condition. Biodiversity is declining steadily.

In contrast, primeval and near-natural forests provide vital habitat and are home to tremendous biodiversity. They are becoming increasingly rare in Europe: in Germany, for example, commercial use is banned in less than two percent of the country's forests due to lobbying pressure by the forestry and timber industry.

Instead of increasingly intensive forestry geared toward maximum wood production, we need forests that are managed in a gentle and natural way. Forests fulfill many vital functions beyond providing timber: they conserve biodiversity and soil quality, supply clean drinking water and protect against flooding, store vast quantities of carbon, have a stabilizing effect on the climate, purify air polluted by industry, households and traffic, and are popular destinations for leisure activities and recreation.

Facts and figures about renewable energy, bioenergy and wood as fuel

A video examining the question of whether burning wood is truly carbon-neutral: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YC4tqu8-oSo

FERN, Birdlife, Transport & Environment, 2017: What impact has the Renewable Energy Directive had on EU forests?

Page 1, Table 1: Consumption of wood biomass for energy

2015: 439,841,000 m³

European Commission, 2014: Commission staff working document: State of play on the sustainability of solid and gaseous biomass used for electricity, heating and cooling in the EU

Page 28:

Figures on biomass use for electricity, heating and cooling in the EU

EU 2012: 99 Mtoe (million tons of oil equivalent)

= 62% share in the production of renewable energy in the EU (= 159.7 Mtoe) and

= 8.7% share of EU final energy consumption

EU 2020: 139.5 Mtoe

= 57% share in the production of renewable energy in the EU, of which

- heating: 90.4 Mtoe

- transport: 29.1 Mtoe

- power: 20.0 Mtoe

Energy from biomass according to EU countries, 2020

- France: 21.6 Mtoe

- Germany: 21.1 Mtoe

- Sweden: 11.7 Mtoe

- UK: 10.4 Mtoe

- Italy: 9.8 Mtoe

AEBIOM 2017: European Bioenergy Outlook 2017. Key Findings

Final energy consumption, EU 2015

- fossil energies and nuclear power: 83%

- renewable energy: 17%, of which

- bioenergy: 10%

- hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal energy: 7%

Bioenergy production in the EU in 2015: 112.342 Mtoe

Pellet production, 2016

Worldwide: 28.9 million tons

EU: 14 million tons, of which

- Germany: 1.9 million tons

- Sweden: 1.7 million tons

- Lithuania: 1.4 million tons

- Estonia: 1.2 million tons

- France: 1.2 million tons

- North America: 9.9 million tons

- Russia, Ukraine: 2.6 million tons

- Asia (not including China): 2.1 million tons

- rest of world: 0.3 million tons

Pellet consumption in the EU, 2016

21.7 million tons

EU pellet imports, 2016

- North America: 6.6 million tons

- Russia, Ukraine: 1.4 million tons

Further reading:

The New York Review of Books: The Great Biomass Boondoggle

Video: BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal?


To: The European Commission, Parliament, Council of Ministers and the governments of the 28 Member States

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The EU and its Member States are planning to burn ever more wood for the production of heat and electricity as part of their renewable energy policy. Wood burning already accounts for around 50 percent of renewable energies, and the total biomass even accounts for two thirds.

Europe’s forests and biodiversity are doing badly. According to the German Ministry of the Environment, three-quarters of all animal and plant species and habitats are in unsatisfactory condition. The populations of many species are declining rapidly.

Instead of focusing forest management on maximizing timber production, environmental aspects must be given priority. More land must also be excluded from wood harvesting and protected.

We urge you to correct the biofuels policy of the EU and its Member States. The wholesale burning of trees and other biomass is neither environmentally sound nor climate-neutral.

Yours faithfully,

News and updates

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