Project: Forests, Climate and Biomass

Our forests, climate and biomass project promotes global action and the science based role of forests to fight climate change. 

The world’s forests are an important sink and storage of carbon and play a crucial role in fighting climate change. Short lived “solutions”, not based on solid science and pushing for increased logging of forests can turn out to increase emissions rather than to reduce them. The EPN aims to highlight the true and surprisingly big carbon footprint of wood use for energy as well as paper production and promote proven solutions leading to reduced emissions.

Our key areas of work are 1) forest biomass and 2) carbon accounting of paper products. Both areas of work tackle the critical carbon accounting flaw that harvesting trees for products or bio-energy is carbon neutral.

Tackling the Biomass Delusion

EPN’s working group on Forests, Climate and Biomass Energy helps our member organisations to work together to disseminate the science and advance global action on the role of forests in climate solutions, especially on the use of forest biomass for energy.

The working group has been brought together by The Biomass Delusion civil society statement published in November 2018 and endorsed already by more than 130 organisations from more than 30 countries. The undersigned organisations:

Believe that we must move beyond burning forest biomass to effectively address climate change. We call on governments, financiers, companies and civil society to avoid expansion of the forest biomass based energy industry and move away from its use. Subsidies for forest biomass energy must be eliminated. Protecting and restoring the world’s forests is a climate change solution, burning them is not.

The statement remains open for endorsements and is available also in German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese.

Expansion of the Biomass Industry

Pellets are a major commodity feeding the global expansion of the industry. Their use as a source of ‘green energy’ is set to increase by a staggering 250% over the next decade, having already doubled in the previous ten years. This and other staggering figures were revealed by the EPN’s report Are Forests the New Coal? – Global Threat Map of Biomass Energy Development, including the figure below.

EPN has also built new tools to track and monitor the expanding biomass energy and pellet industries. The two maps published make for the first time publicly available an extensive global database of existing and planned energy plants running on woody biomass as well as of mills manufacturing wood pellets destined to be burned for energy.

The maps include energy plants with the production capacity of 20 MW or more or mills with annual production of 50 000 metric tonnes or more of pellets. These kinds of installations can be a major threat to forest ecosystems if the wood fuel comes at volume from natural forests. The bigger the plant or mill, the more likely it becomes that woody biomass will be sourced directly from forests.


Denouncing the Industrialisation of the Bioeconomy

As part of our work on forests, climate and biomass EPN has also coordinated a critical civil society statement about the risks of the industrialisation of the so called ‘bioeconomy’. The over 120 organisations supporting the statement want to highlight how bioeconomy is often simply a cover-up for a significant increase in bioenergy, together with other short lived ‘bio-products’ whose climate credentials are questionable or clearly just bad for the climate.

The statement was directed to the BioFuture Platform, an initiative proposed by the Brazilian and Finnish governments and launched with support from 20 other countries with significant vested interests in existing forestry and agricultural industries.

Carbon Footprint of Paper

Carbon emissions occur throughout the life of every piece of paper: when it is sourced from a forest, when it is pulped, when it is transported and made into something to be used and then when it is thrown away. If we use paper wastefully through short life products such as junk mail, inefficient office printing, or virgin tissue paper, it may only take a few weeks for forest carbon to be cut, pulped, shipped, used and dumped into the atmosphere.

As a result, paper has a surprisingly big carbon footprint. Although paper is based on a renewable resource, a discussion paper published by the European EPN in 2013 shows that the way paper is produced and used may result in more green house gas emissions than global aviation.

If we want to stop contributing to climate change, changing our paper habits can really help. In particular, we should avoid wasteful use of paper for pointless, short-life purposes, like unwanted advertising or excessive packaging. The carbon balance of books remaining on shelves for decades is of course different. This is why we advocate extending the lifespan of products and eliminating wastefulness which ultimately will cut down our climate impact.

The pulp and paper industry itself can also play a significant role in climate solutions, from smokestacks to land-use change policies.  The stakes are particularly high when tropical peatland is deforested and degraded, and often followed by fires and additional emissions. See our Too Much Hot Air discussion paper.

For more information on the critical carbon accounting error perpetuating the myth of the carbon-neutrality of paper, bioenergy and other various products as well as for further information on our work, please see:

Join Us!

If you are interested in knowing more or in joining us, please contact our coordinator of the Working Group on Forest, Climate and Biomass: Peg Putt ([email protected])