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Climate change

News and views from the RSPB on climate change and what you can do about it.
  • US biomass trip: in photos

    I recently travelled to the US to see the forests impacted by EU bioenergy policy and the increased demand for wood pellets. All photos by me, Matt Adam Williams.

    The forests of North Carolina are incredibly rich in wildlife, including this little lizard I found.

    One of my favourite moments had to be when we saw a bald eagle from a boat we took a trip on.

    This is a pile of whole trees sitting at the Ahoskie pellet mill. These trees will be turned into wood pellets that are then shipped across to the UK or other countries to be burned for electricity. We know that this practice can be very bad for the climate and devastating for the wildlife that depends on the forests these trees came from.

    This is one of the clearcuts we saw. We stumbled across this one and we don't know for certain if it is linked to felling for wood pellets. But Dogwood Alliance know that many clearcuts in the area are linked to the wood pellet industry, as they have followed the trucks of logs from the clearcuts to the gates of the wood pellet mills. Many of those clearcuts, like this one, used to be beautiful hardwood forest full of wildlife.

  • After my US biomass fact finding trip, what next?

    I’ve been back from the USA almost a week now. As you’ll know if you’ve read my previous blogs about my trip, I went out there to see the impacts of UK and EU bioenergy policies. The beautiful forests are being cut down and turned into wood pellets that in many cases are being shipped to the UK to be burned in our power stations.

    But after seeing the impacts for myself, and meeting with the decision makers, what are the next steps and what can we do to make sure that the wrong kinds of bioenergy aren’t being used and that the right kinds are?

    • US decision makers at the federal and the state level are currently considering the role of bioenergy in the Clean Power Plan (President Obama’s big new renewables initiative). These decision makers need to make sure that whole trees from forests aren’t part of the mix.
    • The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board rejected a finding from a biomass panel that would have seen biomass defined as carbon neutral over 100-year timescales. Science unequivocally shows that biomass cannot be presumed carbon neutral and that some kinds of biomass can even be worse for the climate than the fossil fuels they replace over these timescales. This SAB finding now needs to be enforced through policy.
    • European and UK decision makers need to draw up strict sustainability standards for bioenergy and implement full carbon accounting. The European Commission will propose, later this year, new sustainability standards for bioenergy across the EU that will come into force from 2020. These need to include: full carbon accounting; a cap on the overall use of bioenergy in line with sustainable available supply; robust sustainability criteria; ensuring that the use of biomass complies with the waste hierarchy.
    • In the meantime, states such as the UK should strengthen their sustainability criteria and implement full carbon accounting until 2020. The UK should also review its Bioenergy Strategy.
    • More support is needed for the bioenergy that provides carbon savings and helps nature: for example, genuine wastes and residues, and vegetation arising from management of nature reserves.
    • At the global level, rules governing how emissions from land use are accounted need fixing through a UN process that will begin this May and decide on the rules that are implemented after 2020.

    The next two years are a critical time for bioenergy in the US, the UK and the EU. Decision makers need to make decisions that support the right kinds of biomass and rule out the ones that put the climate and wildlife at risk.

  • USA biomass fact finding trip: what did I learn?

    So, my biomass fact finding mission to the US is coming to a close. Here are ten things that I learned while I was here:

    1. Community members in the Southeastern USA are very concerned about the wildlife, climate and health impacts of the wood pellet industry and its mills.
    2. The bottomland hardwood and wetland forests of the Southeast are rich in birds and wildlife, from bald eagles to belted kingfishers.
    3. The destruction and clearcutting, that Dogwood Alliance have managed to trace to Enviva, a company that supplies power stations in the UK, is worse than I had imagined.
    4. The stacks of whole trees at the pellet mills are huge. This wood is turned into pellets, shipped to the UK and EU and burned, all under the guise of renewable energy.
    5. If five people share one car for six days straight you get to know each other pretty well.
    6. Local NGOs in this part of the USA are very concerned about the impacts EU renewable energy policies are having on their forests.
    7. Politicians and their staff in Washington DC are becoming aware of the issue and are keen to learn from us how to avoid the same mistakes as the EU, as they consider their own use of biomass for energy in the USA.
    8. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Adivsory Board does not accept the recommendation of a biomass panel that biomass should be rated as carbon neutral, and came out with this statement on almost the day we landed. Rejecting carbon neutrality is in line with the vast majority of the scientific evidence.
    9. The media in the USA are becoming increasingly interested in the issue of bioenergy, both the potential growth of a domestic industry and the growing export of wood pellets to European power stations.
    10. An alliance of European, British and American NGOs can work together as friends and colleagues and demonstrate the risks and impacts of this industry, and we have a chance of stopping the worst kinds of biomass from being used, and these amazing forests from every being cut down.