Wiser with Wood: A guide on how to transpose the EU’s revised Renewable Energy Directive to better protect forests, the climate, public health and other wood-using industries
PDF | 8177 kb
PDF | 8177 kb
Of all the land ecosystems, forests are the most essential for buffering the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises. They capture atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO ), host biodiversity, cool and clean the air, purify and store 2 freshwater, help deliver many EU citizens’ material needs and contribute to their health and well-being. Preserving and increasing forests’ resilience will therefore improve future living conditions across Europe.
Unfortunately, however, for the last two decades, the EU has classified – through its Renewable Energy Directive (RED) – energy produced from burning wood (also called "woody biomass") as equivalent to cleaner renewable energy sources like wind and solar. This decision has turned the burning of wood for energy into a large industry that consumes huge amounts of European (and global) forests and European taxpayers’ money.
Today, millions of trees are cut down and burned in Europe, supported by large renewable energy market incentives. Every year, EU citizens pay billions of euros to subsidise and reward energy operators who degrade European forests, deprive other industries of wood supplies and pollute the air.
This policy of treating energy produced from burning wood as ‘renewable’ energy worthy of public subsidies worsens the climate and biodiversity crises at a time when public budgets should be investing in forest protection and a clean and just energy transition.
The first EU legal incentives for burning wood, adopted in 2001, then 2003 and 2009, were blind to the origin, type, possible climate impacts, and other economic uses of woody biomass. The revised RED adopted in 2018 (RED II) introduced “sustainability criteria'' for woody biomass, with the intention that only the energy produced from wood satisfying these criteria would continue to benefit from market incentives. Nevertheless, the insufficiency of these criteria was clear enough that the European Commission proposed to tighten them as part of its “Fit for 55” Green Deal, and published its proposal for the revised RED II (RED III) in July 2021.
This Guide identifies RED III’s legal requirements in the context of woody biomass for energy, describes Member States’ margins of manoeuvre, and proposes ways to better protect forests, the climate, public health and other wood-using industries from the problems created by the EU’s biomass policy. We hope it is a useful resource for EU Member State policy- and decision-makers who now need to adapt the RED III’s requirements to their national context and priorities.
Authors: R. Łuszczek (ClientEarth), M. Pigeon (Fern)