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500+ scientists tell world leaders: Stop treating burning of biomass as carbon neutral

Letter Regarding Use of Forests for Bioenergy (February 11, 2021)

To President Biden, President von der Leyen, President Michel, Prime Minister Suga, and President Moon,

The undersigned scientists and economists commend each of you for the ambitious goals you have announced for the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Forest preservation and restoration should be key tools for achieving this goal and simultaneously helping to address our global biodiversity crisis. We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy.

For decades, producers of paper and timber products have generated electricity and heat as by- products from their process wastes. This use does not lead to the additional harvest of wood. In recent years, however, there has been a misguided move to cut down whole trees or to divert large portions of stem wood for bioenergy, releasing carbon that would otherwise stay locked up in forests.

The result of this additional wood harvest is a large initial increase in carbon emissions, creating a “carbon debt,” which increases over time as more trees are harvested for continuing bioenergy use. Regrowing trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this carbon debt, but regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change. As numerous studies have shown, this burning of wood will increase warming for decades to centuries. That is true even when the wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.

The reasons are fundamental. Forests store carbon – approximately half the weight of dry wood is carbon. When wood is harvested and burned, much and often more than half of the live wood in trees harvested is typically lost in harvesting and processing before it can supply energy, adding carbon to the atmosphere without replacing fossil fuels. Burning wood is also carbon-inefficient, so the wood burned for energy emits more carbon up smokestacks than using fossil fuels. Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.

Increases in global warming for the next few decades are dangerous. This warming means more immediate damages through more forest fires, sea level rise and periods of extreme heat in the next decades. It also means more permanent damages due to more rapid melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost, and more packing of heat and acidity into the world’s oceans. These harms will not be undone even if we remove the carbon decades from now.

Government subsidies for burning wood create a double climate problem because this false solution is replacing real carbon reductions. Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming.

In some places, including Japan and French Guiana, there are proposals not just to burn wood for electricity but to burn palm or soybean oil. Producing these fuels requires expansion of palm or soybean production that leads to clearing of carbon dense tropical forests and reduction of their important carbon sink, both of which add carbon to the atmosphere.

“Sustainability standards” for forest or vegetable oil management cannot alter these results. Sustainable management is what allows wood harvest to eventually pay back carbon debts but cannot alter these decades or even centuries of increased warming. Similarly, any increased demand for vegetable oil adds to the global pressure to clear more forests already created by rising food demands.

Making countries responsible for emissions from land use changes, although desirable, cannot alone fix laws that treat burning wood as carbon neutral because these national responsibilities do not alter the incentives created by those laws for power plants and factories to burn wood. In the same way, the fact that countries are responsible for emissions from diesel fuel use would not fix a law encouraging trucks to burn more diesel on the flawed theory that diesel is carbon neutral. Both treaties that shape national climate responsibilities and each country’s energy laws that implement them must accurately recognize the climate effects of the activities they encourage.

Your decisions going forward are of great consequences for the world’s forests because if the world supplied just an additional 2% of its energy from wood, it would need to double its commercial wood harvests. There is good evidence that increased bioenergy in Europe has already led to greatly increased forest harvests there. These approaches also create a model that encourages tropical countries to cut more of their forests – as several countries have pledged to do – undermining the goals of globally accepted forest agreements.

To avoid these harms, governments must end subsidies and other incentives that today exist for the burning of wood whether from their forests or others. The European Union needs to stop treating the burning of biomass as carbon neutral in its renewable energy standards and in its emissions trading system. Japan needs to stop subsidizing power plants to burn wood. And the United States needs to avoid treating biomass as carbon neutral or low carbon as the new administration crafts climate rules and creates incentives to reduce global warming.

Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity. To meet future net zero emission goals, your governments should work to preserve and restore forests and not to burn them.

Peter Raven, Director Emeritus Missouri Botanical Society, St. Louis, Missouri USA, Winner U.S. National Medal of Science,
former President of American Association for Advancement of Science

PDF version of the letter including the list of all initiators

Original letter (Dropbox)

#StopFakeRenewables

A snapshot of forests with great potential

The PRIMOFARO study: an assessment of Romania’s precious primary and old growth forests. A statement by EuroNatur foundation.

Some of the largest and most significant remaining tracts of the EU’s primary and old-growth forests are found in Romania. Many still exist because they are found in relatively inaccessible locations and have thus far avoided the impacts of human hands and modern development. These forests deserve strict protection on grounds of solid scientific data. Such forests are rare in the European Union, but they still do persist.

A contemporary debate is taking place in the EU that recognises the importance of non-intervention protection of intact natural ecosystems and is seeking consensus on targets for such protection. The Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), in its post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework draft report is proposing strict non-intervention protection of 10% of the world’s land surface in the next decade. Romania has the unique potential to achieve this by actually protecting places that to this day maintain a continuum of intact natural values that have existed for many hundreds, if not thousands of years – its most intact primary and old-growth forests.

It follows that to do this, the location of these forests need to be comprehensively understood. For decades, debate over the existence, amount and location of Romania’s intact forests has raged. However, an ecologically informed scientific consensus has not yet been reached. One reason for this is that the thing that is being attempted to be measured is a moving target – Romania’s close to nature forests are being logged and degraded at a rapid rate, and the ability to reach this consensus is constrained as no national logging moratorium in contentious forest areas has ever been enacted. This must change.

Given this context, the PRIMOFARO study, published by EuroNatur in 2019, is a contemporary attempt to gain a snapshot of forests that have the greatest potential as primary and old growth forests. It identifies forests that potentially indicate a high level of naturalness in comparison to forests that have been relatively recently logged, degraded or managed. Expanding beyond the restrictive and ecologically compromised current Romanian definition of “virgin forests”, the PRIMOFARO study holistically assesses Romania’s forests from the perspective of biodiversity conservation commitments, including the CBD, the IUCN and the EU’s Nature Directives.

Limitations of the study, which are based on visual analysis of aerial photographs with a corresponding error rate, are described transparently in the report, and the study explicitly invites further ecological verification of its inventory.

The PRIMOFARO study, in recognition of national and international climate and biodiversity commitments, offers policy and decision makers a tool to assess and deliver on these commitments.

At EuroNatur, we and our supporters are proud of our ongoing commitment to the conservation of Romania’s magnificent forests. As such, we urge the Romanian government to take the following steps to ensure these forests are forever protected:

  • Ensure that government intervention, discourse and participation in the forest discussion in Romania is scientifically based, transparent and accountable
  • Immediately place a moratorium on all potential primary and old growth forests, including those forests identified in PRIMOFARO, and other scientific studies
  • Resource and facilitate a scientific verification of the conservation and environmental values of these forests in relation to national and international biodiversity and climate targets, goals and commitments
  • Increase the size of existing protected areas to incorporate all primary and old growth forests and ensure strict protection of these forests

 

Primary and old growth forests still exist in the Romanian Carpathians…
…but the loggings destroy the Paradise Forests.

Success: Romanian High Court suspends logging plans in Domogled national park

Forest management plans for Domogled – Valea Cernei national park and Natura 2000 site ignore nature conservation laws

The Romanian High Court of Cassation and Justice suspended forest management plans of forest units Cernisoara, Baia de Arama, Balmes, Ivanu and Olanu in the upper sector of Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park, which is also under protection by EU Natura 2000 legislation. The trial was initiated by Agent Green to obtain the annulment of all forest management plans within the park territory, which are in severe contradiction to provisions from mandatory nature protection legislation such as EU’s Habitats and Birds Directives.

The entire national park has been designated as a Natura 2000 site and as a UNESCO World Heritage site (including a buffer zone). However, not even 50% of the forests in the park are under effective protection and have been included in the strictly protected core zone. The rest of the forest, including highly valuable primary and old growth beech forests, is vanishing progressively due to intensive logging.

State forests enterprise Romsilva is controlling the national park management and they have been issuing logging permissions for a large number of forest parcels in the buffer zone. Even old growth and primary beech forests have been sawed down with official papers.

Euronatur foundation and Agent Green welcome the court decision as a major milestone in their campaign to save the outstanding natural forest heritage of Romania. Only recently, the EU Commission has launched infringement procedures against the Romanian state, following a complaint by EuroNatur, Client Earth and Agent Green.

“Domogled National Park can for the first time since many years breath in peace,” Gabriel Paun from Agent Green said. “It’s just the beginning! Agent Green won the High Court of Cassation and Justice trial against the Ministry of Environment and state forests Romsilva. 19369.24 hectares of Domogled National Park – Cernea Valley can no longer be reached for logging as of today. Anyone who sees a wood truck coming out of UP is asked to immediately notify the police. Transportation would be 100% illegal. Any forestry work now means a forest offense and a violation of court decisions,” Paun added. 

The forest management plans for four production units was suspended and with it, all planned cuts. Another trial to achieve anullment of the forest management plans of the production units in lower Cerna valley is still underway and the court decision is awaited.

Agent Green and Euronatur call on the Romanian government to urgently take all necessary measures to ensure that Romsilva and the operating logging companies immediately leave the Domogled National Park and all logging operations will be stopped.

In a next step, the forest management plans have to be changed in a way to fully comply with both Natura 2000 legislation and IUCN Guidelines for Category 2 protected areas, national parks. This means, that commercial forest exploitation must be ended in the whole national park and all natural (old growth and primary) forest stands need to be included in the non intervention zone of the national park.

Furthermore, the non intervention zone fragments must be connected to ensure fullfilment of globally defined IUCN guidelines for national parks. IUCN wording about national parks: “Large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities.”

In the interpretation of the protected area management categories for Europe (EUROPARC and IUCN, 2000), the IUCN guidelines clearly state that management of the IUCN protected category II should eliminate exploitation (of natural resources), including hunting and fishing, and that this is a duty of the authorities responsible for the management of the national park.

Brutal wounds in the paradise: Destructive logging road in unprotected Radoteasa valley – in the middle of Domogled national park.
Unprotected forest wilderness in Cernisoara production unit. Logging there is suspended for the time being – and must not return.