Europe’s Wood Burning “Disastrous” for the Environment

Europe may fancy itself a global green leader, but many of its “eco-friendly” policies don’t stand up well to close scrutiny. Take, for example, the EU’s predilection for burning wood to help meet its self-imposed renewable energy targets. As New Scientist reports, lax oversight over where this wood is sourced may mean that this supposedly green policy is actually increasing emissions:

The EU gets 65 per cent of its renewable energy from biofuels – mainly wood – but it is failing to ensure this bioenergy comes from sustainable sources, and results in less emissions than burning fossil fuels. Its policies in some cases are leading to deforestation, biodiversity loss and putting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than burning coal.

“Burning forest biomass on an industrial scale for power and heating has proved disastrous,” says Linde Zuidema, bioenergy campaigner for forest protection group Fern. “The evidence that its growing use will increase emissions and destroy forests in Europe and elsewhere is overwhelming.”

Europe has a long history with this foolish green policy. Brussels can categorize burning wood chips and wood pellets as technically carbon neutral so long as the forests being felled to source all of this wood are responsibly and sustainably replanted. But, as is the case with any energy supply chain, it’s not as cut and dry (no pun intended) as that.

Negligence and outright malfeasance can make this source of biomass a decidedly brown energy source. For one thing, you need to be able to monitor replanting in order to assure the so-called lifecycle of the wood you’re burning is carbon-neutral. For another, you need to account for the various emissions produced by the machines cutting all of this wood down, the transportation of that wood to processing facilities, the actual processing itself, and—in some cases—the trans-Atlantic shipment those pellets or chips ultimately embark on (much of Europe’s biomass comes from wood sourced from the southeast United States).

If we wanted to be glib, we could simply point to the fact that burning wood is hardly the sort of future-focused energy strategy that a supposedly environmentally-conscious bloc ought to be embracing. But a closer examination vindicates that initial impression—that wood pellets and wood chips sound like dubious renewables—and exposes yet another example of downright foolish green policymaking in Europe.

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