“Paper Tiger” report shows new EU biomass rules greenlight increased forest destruction

Analysis supports appeal of lawsuit against EU on forest biomass

For Immediate Release July 6, 2020 Contact: Mary S. Booth, Partnership for Policy Integrity | mbooth…at…pfpi.net

– A new report, Paper Tiger: Why the RED II biomass sustainability criteria fail forests and the climate, explains how the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive provides cover for continued logging, GHG emissions, and forest damage from biomass harvesting

– Applicants in the EU Biomass Case appeal the EU Court’s decision on standing, launching new defense of forests after initially being denied access to justice

BRUSSELS – A new report by the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), Paper Tiger: Why the RED II biomass sustainability criteria fail forests and the climate, provides a scientific and legal analysis of why “sustainability” protections in the EU’s recast Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) provide cover for continued logging, GHG emissions, and forest damage from biomass harvesting.

The report expands on the core arguments in the EU Biomass Case brought against the EU Council and Parliament March 4, 2019, that challenged inclusion of forest biomass for renewable energy in the RED II.

The case was rejected without a hearing on May 6, 2020, on grounds that the applicants did not have standing to sue. Barristers who brought the case filed an appeal of the standing decision on July 2. Mary S. Booth, director of PFPI, was science advisor on the legal case and authored the report. “Policymakers claim the sustainability criteria in the RED II are protective, but in reality the provisions are a complicated web of words that will do nothing to stop the most damaging biomass practices that are ongoing today. Even if the criteria had any teeth, they would have little effect, as the RED II exempts the overwhelming majority of biomass burned in the EU from meeting the criteria.” Counting wood burning toward the EU’s renewable energy targets is controversial. Burning wood emits more CO2 than fossil fuels per unit energy, and as acknowledged by the European Commission’s own scientists, net CO2 emissions persist for decades to centuries.

Despite this, the RED II treats burning wood as having zero emissions in the Renewable Energy Directive and allows it to qualify for renewable energy subsidies, which cost Europeans over €6.5 billion per year. About half of wood harvested in the EU is burned for energy, providing over a third of the energy counted toward EU renewable energy targets.  Even wood burned for household heating counts toward the targets, even though wood heating is one of the leading causes of air pollution in the EU, which currently kills about 500,000 people per year. Some of the wood qualifying toward renewable energy targets appears to be illegally harvested, including from protected areas.

The biomass case, brought in March 4, 2019, challenges the EU’s reckless policy of promoting forest biomass as zero-carbon renewable energy. The claimants were denied access to the Courts on May 6, 2020 due to the EU’s draconian rules on ‘legal standing’. Standing rules govern whether a person or organisation has the right to have their case heard by the Courts and, over many years, have barred many claims by EU citizens in relation to environmental issues.

The report and appeal are timely as the EU is engaged in a major effort to create and overhaul legislation addressing both the climate and biodiversity crises. The urgency of slowing forest cutting is highlighted by a new study by the EU’s own Joint Research Centre revealing the shocking statistic that loss of forest biomass in the EU increased 69% in 2016 – 2018 compared with 2011 – 2015, and the area harvested increased by 49%.  

The PFPI report gives a menu of policy reforms that the EU and member states could enact to reduce use of forest biomass.  Speaking of the Joint Research Centre study, Mary Booth said “This kind of hollowing out of forests is the hallmark of biomass extraction, because creating markets for so-called “low value” wood means literally every stick can be chipped up and sold as fuel. The EU needs a climate policy that puts forests first. They can start by taking forest biomass out of the Renewable Energy Directive, but if they don’t initiate meaningful reform, member states can themselves stop paying subsidies for burning forest wood.” See the report here.

Background on Biomass Case  The EU Biomass Case challenges the legality of burning forest biomass under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). It was brought by applicants from Estonia, France, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia and the US who have suffered harm from logging and biomass burning, and anticipate future impacts as financial support for bioenergy continues to soar. The applicants represent areas that have been particularly hard hit, where some of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests are being intensively logged, and as far afield as the US Southeast where natural forests are being clear felled and burned in EU powerplants. PFPI (US), Center for Climate Integrity (US), Fern (EU), and The Lifescape Project (UK) supported the case. The case was brought by Leigh Day, with offices based in London.