Scientists urge leaders to stop using forests for bioenergy

In preparation for the 15th Meeting of the Convention On Biological Diversity (CBD COP15), representatives from the Natural Resources Defence Council have released a letter demanding an end to deforestation for biomass production. 

More than 650 scientists have signed the document, including some of the planet’s leading climate scientists, many working in the world’s most active biomass countries such as Estonia, the US, and Canada, with the UK currently the leading importer of this controversial fuel type.

brown firewood

The move comes just ahead of the Convention’s forthcoming meeting in Montreal, which aims to strike a deal that will see 30% of the globe’s land, inland waters and oceans protected from human activity by 2030. 

There have long-been concerns that continued use of bioenergy, which effectively involves burning some of the most carbon-rich forests in the world, significantly contributing to global warming and worsening air quality, while endangering wildlife — with 80% of terrestrial biodiversity found in forests — and speed up climate change by reducing the Earth’s natural ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

The impact is long lasting, too, with the European Academies Scientific Advisory Council warning that many forms of biomass use cause emissions build up over several years or even decades, creating a ‘carbon debt’ that can last for generations. 

‘We must transition our energy system, but it cannot be at the cost of nature. Ensuring energy security is a major societal challenge, but the answer is not to burn our precious forests – calling this ‘green energy’ is misleading and risks accelerating the global biodiversity crisis,’ said Professor Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at London’s Kew Gardens, and a signatory of the letter. 

‘Governments and the bioenergy industry each have one hand on an axe that is decimating the world’s forests. Continuing to put a fake renewable like biomass energy at the heart of their net zero plans, will undermine any global deal promising to save nature by 2030. The world’s wildlife is already vanishing, and the bioenergy industry is helping to accelerate that by destroying precious forest habitats. A growing global bioenergy industry will require either large amounts of wood from forests, or huge amounts of specially grown energy crops, which could use hundreds of millions of hectares of land,’ added Elly Pepper, Senior Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council and Cut Carbon Not Forests Coalition. 

‘Bioenergy doesn’t just have a big environmental price tag – it’s an incredibly expensive technology that gets billions in government subsidies every year. But, while wind and solar are getting ever cheaper, bioenergy costs may rise as forests are destroyed and the supply of wood disappears. We could see what has happened to gas prices happening to bioenergy prices as well. The sun and wind can’t be used up, but forests can if we keep burning them,’ she added. ‘The best way to protect forests and restore nature, and to help families in many countries who are struggling to pay energy bills, is to stop subsidising bioenergy and to insulate homes instead, making them more efficient and cutting bills.’

Earlier this year, a BBC expose on Britain’s biomass-fuelled Drax power station, laid bare the  environmental and air pollution cost of this energy source. 

Image:Esther Ní Dhonnacha


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