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The European Union (EU) may appear to be ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainable energy — the institution decreed its member states must shift one-fifth of their energy to renewable resources by 2020 — but due to a dubious definition of "renewable," the EU's policies have resulted in U.S. companies clear-cutting entire forests for European countries to burn for fuel.
A policy loophole has led the EU to consider biomass, commonly in the form of wood pellets, to be a viable alternative to coal — but the National Resources Defense Council projects wood pellet-burning will result in equal, or even greater greenhouse gas emissions over the next fifty years, depending on the percentage sourced from whole trees.
According to the U.S. government and independent reports, rising demand for wood pellets has led manufacturers to increasingly source from fully grown forests, destroying rich, carbon-negative wildlife habitats in the process. This means high emissions and low sequestration of carbon.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports companies sent 4.4 million short tons of wood pellets to the EU in 2014, doubling 2012's exports — and we can expect that number to double again.
Tell the EU's Directorate-General for Energy it's time to revise their policy on biomass, and end this ecological disaster before it's too late.
To the EU's Directorate-General for Energy,
The European Commission has taken a strong stance in favor of renewable energy production, and is a proven leader on the path toward a more sustainable planet. However, one oversight in your energy policy has led to a disconcerting surge in deforestation, particularly in the southeast region of the United States, and may in fact cause an overall increase in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
As you know, many European energy companies are choosing to burn biomass — usually in the form of wood pellets — instead of coal, in order to achieve the Renewable Energy Directive. According to the Washington Post, Yale Environment 360, and U.S. government reports, these wood pellets are increasingly produced from mature, healthy trees — often harvested by clear-cutting entire forests.
Once burned, wood pellets may produce as much as 20 percent more carbon dioxide than coal, according to Climate Central's analysis of data from Drax Power. A report from the National Resources Defense Council found that, even when using 80 percent waste wood, it will take until 2070 for us to see carbon-negative benefits from replacing fossil fuels with biomass.
While burning biomass may technically be "renewable," it is far from sustainable. It can take decades for a forest to regrow, and even longer for it to reach its former carbon sink potential. Other energy resources, such as solar and wind, bypass the carbon cycle altogether, making them immediately carbon-negative.
As leaders in sustainable energy, other nations look to you for guidance. Please consider the science behind the business of biomass as you revise your energy strategy, and help us build a better, carbon-neutral world.