Europe’s re­new­able en­ergy strat­egy will de­stroy forests and harm cli­mate, sci­en­tists warn

Tehran Times - - ENERGY -

Lead­ing cli­mate sci­en­tists have de­nounced the EU’s de­ci­sion to push wood as a “re­new­able” en­ergy source.

They say the move will likely re­sult in both a boost in green­house gas emis­sions across Europe and dev­as­ta­tion of some of the world’s most an­cient forests.

Not only are forests home to much of the planet’s bio­di­ver­sity, they ab­sorb cli­mate-dam­ag­ing CO2 from the at­mos­phere and are there­fore con­sid­ered a vi­tal buf­fer against cli­mate change.

De­spite this, ear­lier this sum­mer Euro­pean of­fi­cials de­cided – against the ad­vice of hun­dreds of sci­en­tists – that wood could be con­sid­ered a low-car­bon fuel, mean­ing that trees can be cut down directly to burn.

The think­ing be­hind this ac­tion, which would dou­ble Europe’s use of re­new­able en­ergy by 2030, is that new trees can be planted to re­place the forests that have been re­moved.

How­ever, in a pa­per pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, sci­en­tists have out­lined what they see as the flaws in this logic.

Burn­ing forests re­leases a lot of CO2 into the at­mos­phere, and it can take many years for the new trees to ab­sorb enough car­bon to make up for the quan­tity that has been re­leased.

The sci­en­tists es­ti­mate that green­house gas emis­sions could ac­tu­ally in­crease by up to 10 per cent if wood is widely used as fuel and will lead to many forests around the world be­ing cut down to keep up with Euro­pean en­ergy de­mand.

They also sug­gested that cut­ting down trees for fuel will en­cour­age other na­tions to fol­low suit. Brazil and In­done­sia have al­ready pledged to tackle cli­mate change by burn­ing more wood.

“Treat­ing wood as a car­bon-neu­tral fuel is a sim­ple pol­icy de­ci­sion with com­plex cas­cad­ing ef­fects on for­est use, en­ergy sys­tems, wood trade and bio­di­ver­sity world­wide,” said Pro­fes­sor Eric Lam­bin, a re­searcher at Stan­ford Univer­sity and one of the pa­per’s au­thors. “Clearly, many of th­ese ef­fects have not re­ceived due at­ten­tion.” Pro­fes­sor Wolf­gang Lucht from the Pots­dam In­sti­tute for Cli­mate Im­pact Re­search said: “It makes no sense at all to save trees through re­cy­cling and then turn around to burn them for en­ergy.

“There is noth­ing green, re­new­able, or en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly about that. Global forests are not dis­pos­able.”

In re­sponse, Jean-Marc Jos­sart from trade as­so­ci­a­tion Bioen­ergy Europe said that “bioen­ergy is not and will not be a cause of de­for­esta­tion in the EU or else­where”, point­ing to a 32 per cent growth in EU forests over 25 years even while bioen­ergy con­sump­tion has dou­bled since 2000.

“The rate of re­place­ment of trees is rapid,” he added.

“The EU-28’s car­bon stock in forests keeps on in­creas­ing, thanks to sus­tain­able forestry man­age­ment and re­for­esta­tion pro­grams. Most im­por­tantly, Euro­pean forests pro­vide re­sources to plenty of in­dus­tries and are not man­aged for en­ergy pur­poses only.”

Even so, the sci­en­tists ques­tioned why the EU was fo­cus­ing on burn­ing wood when it had the ca­pac­ity to in­vest in re­new­able en­ergy sys­tems that posed less threat to the en­vi­ron­ment.

“Com­pared with the vast ma­jor­ity of what counts as ‘bioen­ergy by har­vest­ing wood,’ so­lar and wind have large ad­van­tages in land use ef­fi­ciency and lower costs,” said Dr Dan Kam­men from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

“The fo­cus on wood is not only counter-pro­duc­tive for cli­mate change but un­nec­es­sary.”

The an­nounce­ment comes as a panel of UK sci­en­tists re­vealed a plan to meet the na­tion’s emis­sion tar­gets by plant­ing stretches of for­est across the coun­try to act as valu­able car­bon sinks.

New forests are con­sid­ered one of the most straight­for­ward tech­niques avail­able to re­move large vol­umes of CO2 from the at­mos­phere, a strat­egy seen as vi­tal if the more am­bi­tious goals set by the in­ter­na­tional Paris cli­mate agree­ment are to be met.

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