Sun rays through a forest

New report highlights climate risk from burning trees for energy

A new report from the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recognises burning trees for energy can cause more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.

The CCC’s Biomass in a low-carbon economy report also acknowledges that the regulation of biomass in UK law has not stopped unsustainable practices when wood is harvested for biomass energy.

ClientEarth climate and forests law and policy advisor Caroline Haywood said: “The CCC’s report acknowledges that burning wood for energy doesn’t make sense for the UK’s climate commitments since it can actually increase carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels.

“While we have serious reservations about large-scale burning of wood for energy, we are pleased that the CCC has found that – if biomass is going to go ahead –it must be done in the least destructive way possible.

“This includes ruling out the most carbon emission causing practices – such as clearing whole trees to burn – and limiting imports from those companies that can’t account fully for all of their carbon emissions.

“The regulation of biomass in UK law is insufficient to stop unsustainable practices. Instead of putting money behind a new system of high carbon energy generation, the UK should incentivise the growth of real renewables.”

The report also acknowledges that truly sustainable biomass is limited and therefore, must be used in the most effective way. Instead of large-scale biomass power plants, biomass should be used in long-lived materials – such as using timber in construction – and for energy-intensive processes that are difficult to decarbonise, such as heavy industry and biofuels in aviation.

The European Union’s new Renewable Energy Directive, agreed this summer, adopted disappointingly weak sustainability criteria for biomass, creating a significant risk that energy from forest biomass would result in increased greenhouse emissions.

Haywood added: “The UK has an opportunity to adopt energy and land use policies that stop biomass for energy and prioritise protecting forests to mitigate the effects of climate change. That should be the focus of government policy.”

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Valeriy Andrushko