The biomass industry, fueled by public subsidies, is a growing threat to forests and to effectively addressing the climate crisis. During a workshop organized by EPN and the Global Forest Coalition at the People’s Summit, in Santiago de Chile, testimonies were shared by voices from around the world on the on-the-ground impacts from the rapidly growing industry and the misguided policies driving them.
In another hemisphere, in Madrid, Spain, at the 25th formal meeting of the Conference of Parties to negotiation an international climate treaty, forests were set to be a key topic. The testimonies at this People’s Summit event, as well as the others are essential to ensuring that nature based climate solutions are socially responsible and protect and restore native forests.
In the southeast of the United States, native, hardwood, wetland forests are being extracted and shipped across the Atlantic ocean to be burned in biomass power plants in Europe. The practice receives large subsidies to help nations’s achieve their mandated “green energy” goals. Current and planned wood pellet mills cover the region with overlapping sourcing radius’. The situation is repeating itself in other natural forest around the world, from Australia to British Columbia, Canada and more to find trees for wood pellets for a rapidly growing industry thanks to government subsidies and support. A current map by Environmental Paper Network of the industry expansion can be found here.
In other parts of the world plantations are becoming part of the story. The industry is also gaining ground in Latin America. The pulp and paper industry in Chile, Brazil and Uruguay, which often expanded their exotic pine or eucalyptus plantations by converting natural forest and by grabbing land from traditional communities, and are now pursuing the chance to produce subsidised energy by burning wood to produce “renewable energy.”
In Chile, as in other places, the domestic use of wood to produce energy, is also being promoted as the most viable (cheap) and sustainable solution, for poorer communities. It is a fact that at the moment, other sources of energy might be more expensive. But it is also true that this is due to a lack of investment by governments into truly renewable sources of energy, for example geothermal energy. There has also not been enough investment in promoting energy efficiency and consumption reduction, for example by promoting better insulation of houses. The only viable option left to communities is the burning of wood, which takes a toll on their health, especially on that of women, who are most exposed to the smoke resulting from the domestic fires.
Meanwhile, governments are still pursuing laws which are based on flawed assumptions and faulty science. And fails to recognize the urgent need to stop combustion for energy and putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A key flaw of the rush to biomass is that this energy commodity is presented as carbon-neutral, while the burning of wood emits more CO2 per unit of energy than the burning of coal does. The lost carbon will not be compensated for decades or more, and only if new trees are planted or a forest is allowed to regenerate. And in the current models of plantations and forestry it will be cut again, releasing the carbon again if it ends up as biomass energy or short-lived products. 800 scientists have written a letter to the European Union citing the flawed science driving its policies, urging an end to subsidies for burning biomass energy, and a focus on wind, solar and other forms of “renewable” energy that do not emit large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
We must dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions, invest in truly renewable energy sources, and reduce our energy consumption. And hen it is critical that any agreements on forests and renewable energy or Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Climate Agreement include only measures to protect natural forests, expand and restore forests where they have been deforested or degraded, and safeguard local and indigenous community’s rights, and includes their leadership.