Tag Archives: biomass

Lawsuit seeks to remove forest biomass from EU’s renewable energy directive

On March 4 2019, a landmark lawsuit against the European Union was launched in Brussels to challenge the new EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED 2). Plaintiffs from the five European Member States Romania, Ireland, Slovakia, France and Estonia are charge that the EU’s 2018 Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) will devastate forests and increase greenhouse gas emissions by promoting burning forest wood as renewable and carbon neutral. 

The legal case, which will be filed in the European General Court in Luxembourg, cites scientific evidence that wood-burning power plants pump more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere per unit of energy than coal plants. The EU policy does not count the CO2 emissions from burning biomass fuels for heat or energy, making it appear that These methodas are more climate-friendly than fossil fuels. The plaintiffs are asking the court to annul the forest biomass provisions of RED II in order to render the burning of forest wood ineligible for EU Member State as they try to meet the renewable energy targets and subsidies. 

Burning wood in power plants pumps more CO2 into the atmosphere
(per unit of energy) than coal…

“The EU’s policy relies on the false and reckless assumption that burning forest wood is carbon neutral,” said Dr. Mary S. Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, and lead science advisor on the case. “However, scientists from around the world, including the EU’s own science advisors, warned that burning forest wood actually increases emissions relative to fossil fuels.”    

EU renewable energy directive in contradiction to Treaty of the Functioning of the EU

“The lawsuit we are filing today alleges the EU’s policy fails to comply with nearly all of the principles for environmental policy that are laid out in the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, including that policy should be based on science, address climate change and embrace the principle that polluters pay,” said Raul Cazan, from 2Celsius in Romania, one of the NGO plaintiffs. “It’s hard to imagine a more counter-productive policy than burning forests for fuel.”   

Romanian environmentalist Gabriel Paun from  the NGO Agent Green supports the case as witness.

An overview about the details of the case can be read here.

“We’re in a climate emergency that the EU is exacerbating by treating forests, virtually our only carbon sink, as fuel,” said Peter Lockley, legal counsel for the plaintiffs. “This favored treatment is expanding forest cutting, which in turn is impacting peoples’ property, rights, and livelihoods. It’s vital that people affected by this damaging law are allowed to come before the EU court to challenge it.” 

Subsidies for wood biomass will increase logging, Europe’s last natural and virgin forests will have to pay the price… Image: logging in the heart of Romania’s Domogled – Valea Cernei national park based upon approvals by the state.

In accordance with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations for maintaining a livable climate, the European Commission has called for a climate-neutral EU by 2050, requiring the balancing of greenhouse gas emissions and uptake into carbon sinks, mostly forests by that point. Under RED II, the EU is required to generate at least 32 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 to help reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent in comparison to 1990 levels.  

However, biomass energy is a large and growing part of EU’s renewable energy mix. In 2016, nearly half the renewable energy produced in the EU came from burning woody biomass and the demand is expected to increase with RED II.  

EU subsidies for wood biomass will increase logging of primeval forests

The case argues that not only the uncounted CO2 emissions from this biomass are undermining efforts to address climate change, but subsidies for biomass are increasing the demand and therefore the logging of forests in Europe and North America. The plaintiffs represent areas that have been hit particularly hard, such as the US Southeast, Estonia, and the Carpathian Mountain forests in eastern Europe where some of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests are being logged. 

The suit is being filed by plaintiffs from Estonia, France, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia and the USA. The plaintiffs are bringing the case based on the detrimental impacts from logging and biomass burning they have already experienced and anticipation of future impacts if financial support for bioenergy continues to soar.

“The transformation of the Renewable Energy Directive was the EU’s chance to deal with some of the most egregious problems associated with biomass bioenergy, such as increasing forest harvests and burning whole trees and stumps. On this they largely failed, so it is now up to citizens to take the EU to court and get this disastrous decision turned around” said Hannah Mowat, campaign coordinator at Fern, a Brussels-based NGO working on forests and rights. 

For more information about the case and a background on each of the plaintiffs, go to www.eubiomasscase.org.

The giant clearcuts in the Romanian and Slovak Carpathians are not only a disaster for biodiversity. They also threaten humans by increasing risk of flooding, landslides and avalanches. The large openings also degrade the forest soil and hamper forest growth.

 

Romania: How „woodchippers“ threaten natural forests and help with laundering of illegal logging

 

EU forests increasingly threatened by “bioenergy” – Fern report

Agent Green” investigator Andrei Ciurcanu could hardly believe what he found  in the middle of Romania’s Rodna National Park: A fully automatic wood chipper machine, cutting trees and instantly chopping them into little wood chips to be sold to „bioenergy“ industry. I’ts not logs any more leaving the national park, but many many unmarked (and therefore uncontrollable) pieces of wood. This makes it even more easy to launder illegal logging. Wood chips mainly end up being burned in the bioenergy sector – entering the atmosphere as carbon emissions and intensifying the climate crisis.

According to the new report „EU Forests in Danger“ by the NGO Fern bioenergy industry is becoming the number one threat to Europe´s natural forest remains. The EU wood processing industry is heavily pushing for the increased use of wood (also directly from forests, not just from wood waste) for energy purposes. They claim this is good for „climate protection“.

However, numerous scientists and environmentalists counter this by arguing that burning trees leads to increased carbon emissions and thus adds to the climate crisis. Regrowth of forests happens too slow to compensate the emissions in time. Therefore they call for improved protection of intact forests and expansion of woodlands – rather than logging and replacing natural forests with plantations.

Woodchipper in Romania’s Rodna National Park

Back to Rodna National Park. Agent Green Investigator Andrei Ciurcanu says, the use of this wood chipping device proves it being likely that illegal practices still happen on large scale, even in the forests of a national park. The wood thieves just use the official system of traceability (SUMAL) and its weaknesses: Romania still doesn’t have an online registry of logging depots, thus it is very easy to use the depots as a laundering places for getting illegal Wood out. In this case not only the depots are used to launder the illegal wood, but also to transform illegally cut trees into unrecognizable wood chips. Then the wood could be sold to wood processing or trading companies with official papers, giving the appearance of legality.

Woodchipper in an Romanian national park: illegally cut trees transformed into wood chips, right in the middle of the protected forest…

În Parcul Național Munții Rodnei lemnul tăiat ilegal este tocat și apoi vândut firmelor de procesare from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Official investigations found illegal practices

The official investigations led by Romanian authorities (Forest Guard inspectors) in the area where the chipper was present revealed that a Romanian logging company was authorised by a Private Forest District to enter the National Park and received legal permits for „accidental logging“ (trees affected by windstorms and landslides).

Thus, the timber quality is medium or low. However, the investigators discovered that the company employees logged not only damaged trees but cleared the whole area. They found 91 stumps without a the sign for legal logging approval (hammer). The overall loss was equivalent to more than 10.000 euros. The illegally harvested wood was afterwards mixed with other logs and sold or transformed into woodchips. They attached papers, as if the timber was sold from a depot.

But the Investigators not only discovered illegally cut stumps. They also found out that in the Lala region (where the chipper was filmed) not one legal depot was authorized by the Romanian institutions. So all the papers used for transporting and selling of the wood chips were obviously forged.

In brief: the woodchipper was obviously also used to transform illegally cut trees into wood chips. The growing market for „biomass“ could make fishy practices like this more attractive and lead to additional forest destruction.

Basically the logging and transport company apparently wanted to avoid registration of the woodchips with the Romanian SUMAL System. This requires a mandatory online registration of all transports of logged wood from the forest to a processing factory or a depot located outside the forest with a unique SUMAL online code. They used only accompanying documents pretending that the wood was transported from a depot to a factory, which does not require an online code according to SUMAL and the romanian legislation.

This trick was intentional to hide the origin of the wood. In case of a police control it would have been impossible to see whether the wood was legally cut or not. During routine control the police only sees that the transport appears to be legal because it is accompanied by official papers.

The illegal logging is investigated now by the prosecutor and there is an ongoing penal investigation. Romanian TV reported about this case.

Which companies appear to be involved?

The official investigation led by forest inspectors revealed that the woodchips were made by a chipper owned by a company named Austroforest and the transport by Frasinul Ltd, both owned by a businessman called Traian Larionesi, important partner for Holzindustrie Schweighofer. His name is connected to different corruption cases investigated by the Anti Corruption Department in Romania. The forest inspectors also found out that the woodchips were sold by Frasinul to the big Austrian timber processing company Egger. The company runs Romania’s largest biomass power plant (83 Megawatt) in Radauti , where Egger also operates a huge sawmill. 

We complain about forest destruction worldwide.
But what about protection of forests on our own doorstep?

The EU in general is supporting programs to protect forests globally, through development aid, innovative trade work such as the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, and commitments to end EU consumption of goods that cause agricultural deforestation. Officials from all over the EU have been supporting calls on countries hosting large forest areas such as Brazil, Indonesia, DRC or Russia to halt excessive logging.

New report by Fern: EU Forests in Danger

But at the same time, less than one per cent or the EU’s forests are still in a primeval or very natural status. And many of these stands are not sufficiently protected. Even in the EU’s Natura 2000 sites old growth and virgin forests are being logged – legally and illegally. A substantial share of the harvested timber from EU’s last natural forest stands ends up in bioenergy industry. The NGO Fern published the report „EU Forests in Danger“ about the progressing loss of Europe´s last natural forests. Country reports from 11 EU member states (including Romania, Slovakia or Sweden) draw an alarming picture. Final conclusion: „we must also protect the natural and old-growth forests on our own doorstep“.

 

Save our Paradise Forests now! from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

See the full episode about the case of Rodna national park from the “Out of Control” series:

OUT OF CONTROL || Case #5 || Rodna Mountains National Park from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Urgent call on European Parliament: Burning trees is not climate friendly!

Members of the European Parliament have to prevent forest destruction for bioenergy profits

On 17th of January 2018 the European Parliament will vote on a law proposal promoting renewable energy in the period from 2021 to 2030. This is a crucial vote that will have an impact on the future direction of critical climate action and on the essential protection of the world’s precious forests.  It is targeted as a key measure to meet EU’s climate goals.  However, the logging and agriculture industry have been heavily lobbying the EU Commission to introduce their commercial interests at the core of the EU’s climate agenda. They claim that biomass is a renewable energy source which is carbon-dioxide neutral.

To the contrary, there is strong evidence that burning whole trees and food crops is not climate friendly and not sustainable.  The increasing EU demand for biomass as an energy source is driving forward large scale destruction of old growth forests both inside and outside the EU, making climate change worse and compromising efforts to ensure the essential transition to truly renewable and climate friendly resources.

Old growth and primeval forests store large amounts of carbon in biomass and soil through the absorption of carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere, often over centuries, if not thousands of years.  When they are logged and the trees are burned, enormous amounts of dangerous carbon-dioxide emissions are released into the atmosphere.  It will take centuries until the same amount of carbon will be stored in those forests again. So carbon neutrality only occurs in far future, well beyond the timeframe needed to meet our current emissions reduction commitments. This “climate therapy“ ends up being worse than the disease…

As a result of the hunger for bioenergy rainforests in tropical countries including in Indonesia are being destroyed at a breathtaking pace.  But tropical forests are not the only forests under threat.  In North America, Russia, Australia and Europe, where the biomass demand is increasing, carbon rich old growth and primeval forests are being eradicated along with their irreplaceable biodiversity.

In Europe, most old growth forests have been destroyed and only a fraction of what remains is protected.  Logging, in particular for bioenergy, is a major threat to our last “paradise forests”.  Most of them are located in Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Scandinavia and Russia. In all those countries, logging, both legal and illegal, is killing millions of old trees every year.

Besides logging, bioenergy is equally a problem when food crops, such as palm oil or rapeseed, are used to produce biofuels for cars and trucks. Indigenous communities, including in the Amazon are under existential pressure from palm oil plantations. They are being dispossessed of their ancestral forests and land. According to the NGO “Transport and Environment“ the Peruvian government has announced that it has the capacity to dedicate at least 1.5 million hectares of land to palm oil cultivation to meet rising global demand.

Burning solid biomass also has negative effects on air quality, as the FERN-report “Covered in smoke” highlights. Unfortunately the debate about this threat has been ignored by the European Commission in revising the EU’s renewable energy policy. New research for Fern by Dr Mike Holland, a leading independent air pollution expert, reveals the perilous effects on EU citizens’ health from burning solid biomass such as trees, as FERN explains in their report.

The research indicates that potentially tens of thousands of EU citizens are dying prematurely every year as a result of exposure to air pollution from burning biomass. There are also severe health impacts such as cancer, cardiac and respiratory complaints, asthma attacks and working days lost to ill health. According to FERN, Dr Holland has conducted an assessment of 27 biomass burning power plants in the EU. The analyses of Dr Holland shows that “more than 1,300 people are dying prematurely each year as a result of exposure to air pollution from the 27 facilities considered“.

“Given the drastic effect that biomass burning is already having on citizens’ health – as well as on forests and climate – the Parliament must abandon its current path, specifically by ending support for converting coal installations into biomass ones, and for burning biomass in large-scale inefficient installations. Only then will the EU have a renewable energy policy that respects the environment as well as its citizens’ health“, Linde Zuidema, bioenergy campaigner at FERN, concludes.

More than 600 scientists signed a letter recently, urging “European legislators to amend the present directive to restrict eligible forest biomass to appropriately defined residues and wastes because the fates of much of the world’s forests and the climate are literally at stake“. In that letter they state: “The flaw in the directive lies in provisions that would let countries, power plants and factories claim credit toward renewable energy targets for deliberately cutting down trees to burn them for energy. The solution should be to restrict the forest biomass eligible under the directive to residues and wastes. (…) By 1850, the use of wood for bioenergy helped drive the near deforestation of western Europe even when Europeans consumed far less energy than they do today. Although coal helped to save the forests of Europe, the solution to replacing coal is not to go back to burning forests, but instead to replace fossil fuels with low carbon sources, such as solar and wind.“

Furthermore, 30 NGOs called on the European Parliament to support crucial changes to the proposed rules on bioenergy in the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive.

On the 17th of January, Members of the European Parliament have a unique opportunity to halt unsustainable bioenergy use, and encourage only truly renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. “Transport and Environment” runs a petition  where EU citizens can send a clear message to their MEPs that they don’t want their transport fuel, heat or electricity to be produced with bioenergy from harmful sources.

Video by FERN on CO2-emissions from bioenergy: