Today a coalition of green groups and businesses, including the RSPB, has written to the Secretaries of State for Business and for Energy and Climate Change, Vince Cable and Ed Davey.
We are calling on them to protect the wildlife, climate and jobs that are threatened by the rapid expansion of bioenergy based on burning trees. We want them to act to limit the size of the biomass industry to sustainable levels.
You can help as well. Please write to your MP today and call on them to support only sustainable biomass.
Here is the letter we have sent:
We believe that Government needs to act quickly to limit support for large-scale electricity-only biomass, both to protect our climate and environment, as well as the many British businesses that depend on affordable sources of wood, pulp and other forms of biomass.
Current plans to subsidise biomass electricity could see the sector consuming the equivalent of six times the UK’s annual forestry harvest by 2017. These plans threaten to increase our greenhouse gas emissions, and this increased pressure on a scarce and valuable natural resource will threaten the survival of existing industries – in wood, wood panels, packaging, construction, furniture and paper.
Over 40,000 jobs rely on these industries and many of these would be at risk thanks to the reckless pursuit of biomass electricity. 8,400 people rely on jobs in the wood panel industry. The sawmilling industry, which supports a further 12,000 jobs, could be jeopardised. In addition the paper industry in the UK represents at least 25,000 direct employees and, it is estimated, up to 100,000 indirect employees.
A growing body of evidence highlights the carbon debt created when a tree is harvested and burned. This debt can take between decades and centuries to repay as trees re-grow, meaning that this kind of energy fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the medium term; however, current calculations of the emissions from biomass electricity ignore this and the biomass industry does not have to count them when it receives subsidies. [You can read more about this in RSPB, Friends of the Earth & Greenpeace report, 'Dirtier than Coal: Why Government plans to subsidise the burning of trees are bad news for the planet, 2012'.]
Whilst bioenergy releases the carbon stored in wood into the atmosphere, the use of wood for products such as construction timber, packaging, fencing, wood panels and furniture plays an important role by locking that carbon up for very long periods, often well in excess of 60 years after harvesting, quite apart from extended carbon storage when wood fibre is recycled and re-used. A Forest Research report commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change clearly concludes that using woody biomass for energy-only consistently performs worse from a carbon point of view than more traditional uses. When using forest biomass the underlying principle should be to maximise the beneficial use of this renewable but ultimately limited resource and to apply a cascading approach to resource use wherever possible and appropriate.
Bioenergy has an important role to play in the UK’s renewable energy strategy, but not through the use of wood (except genuine wastes) for electricity alone (as opposed to more efficient, good quality combined heat and power). It is clear that burning wood for electricity alone fails to provide the emission savings it is designed for while putting at risk other industries which perform far better from a carbon point of view. As such, we are calling on Government to use the UK Energy Bill to reflect environmental realities and to limit the scope of biomass in the energy sector and ultimately to put sustainability at the heart of the policy framework for biomass.
Mike Clarke, Executive Director, RSPBJohn Sauven, Executive Director, GreenpeaceAndy Atkins, Chief Executive, Friends of the EarthDavid Sulman, Executive Director, UK Forest Products AssociationDavid Workman, Director General, Confederation of Paper IndustriesBob Livesey, Joint Managing Director, EggerKarl Morris, Managing Director, NorbordMike McKenna, Director, KronospanAlistair Kerr, Director General, Wood Panel Industries FederationJohn Dye, President, TIMCONHamish Macleod, Director of Public Affairs, BSW TimberJohn White, CEO, Timber Trade FederationPaul von der Heyde, Chairman, British Furniture ConfederationJackie Bazeley, Managing Director, British Furniture ManufacturersMichael Powell, Chairman, FIRA, Furniture Industry Research Association
Please do help by writing to your MPs and calling on them to support only sustainable biomass today if you can.
We all know that we can’t afford to burn all of our fossil fuel reserves if we’re to stay within the ‘safe’ climate change of around 2°C average global temperature rise, but a new report last week has revealed just how big the mismatch is between economic and environmental systems.
The new report estimates that burning the coal, oil and gas reserves listed on the world’s stock exchanges would release 762GtCO2 – and this represents only a quarter of the world’s total reserves! Yet we can only burn between 16% to 30% of these ‘assets’ if we are to retain a safe climate. Carbon Tracker calls this mismatch a ‘Six Trillion Dollar carbon bubble’.
Meanwhile an EU report has put the annual cost of extreme weather at €100 billion by 2020, and 250 billion Euros by 2050. Worse, they warn that the failure to take measures to prevent the destruction of crops and property by extreme weather is likely to lead to instability and deeper social divisions.
For the 2002-2011 period, the temperature of the European land area was on average 1.3°C above the pre-industrial level. Southern countries such as Spain, Greece and Cyprus have experienced severe droughts. Other northern countries, including Denmark, have had increased flooding such as we’ve seen here in Britain. Our climate is becoming almost as unstable as our economy!
It seems that if there is one thing that unregulated markets will guarantee, it’s dangerous levels of climate change. We think it’s time to challenge the system and demand that Government takes a firm line, stopping new investment in infrastructure that might make the markets happy today, but at the expense of all of us tomorrow.
They could start with reversing their crazy decision on a new airport at Lydd. What do you think?
...Because when it comes to our climate change emissions, it seems that the Government isn’t telling the whole truth. Last month, for the first time in a few years, UK carbon emissions statistics showed an increase (a 4.5% rise in 2012), following a few years of a noticeable downward trend. We’re now, overall, emitting 26% less than in 1990.
But overall, that’s great news right? Not quite.
Yesterday evening I went along to a talk organized by the Public Interest Research Centre and featuring speakers such as Caroline Lucas. They pointed out why our seemingly exemplary action to tackle climate change is not all it appears to be. It’s all rather neatly summarized in this new animation which was launched at last night’s event.
According to the film we've been told three fundamental lies about the UK's emissions and consumption, lies which could have consequences for wildlife and the climate:
Lie number one: we have succeeded in cutting UK carbon emissions
It’s true that the emissions from stuff that's both produced and consumed in the UK have declined (manufacturing has decreased and been replaced by services). That’s because a lot of what we use is now made abroad, in particular in China.
When the emissions caused by making that stuff are factored in, the UK’s emissions have actually increased by 20% (not decreased) compared to 1990. So, our domestic emissions balance sheets might be less carbon intensive, but our lifestyles certainly aren’t. We’re letting China take the heat for our consumer lifestyles.
Lie number two: current UK action on climate change is enough
Government is not investing enough in genuinely low-carbon renewable energy and other measures to reduce our emissions. True, the proportion of UK energy that comes from renewables is rising (in 2011 9.4% of the UK’s electricity same from renewable sources), and that’s to be applauded.
But more widely we’re happy to allow the consumption accounting fix to make it look like we’re doing very well at reducing our emissions overall when in fact they’ve gone up. We need to both honestly account for these emissions and to invest more in genuinely low-carbon energy and transport options and in energy efficiency.
Lie number three: more stuff can make us happier
A range of evidence shows that, beyond a certain point, having more things doesn’t actually make you any happier. In fact, the cycle of consumption can make people less happy. Speakers at last night’s event raised a couple of key points. One is that it’s important to think about how we could use stuff differently – repairing, sharing, loaning and recycling, for example. Alongside that, we can think about all the ways to be happy that don’t rely on buying more stuff: spending more time in nature being one of the more obvious.
For me, alongside these three lies, are three compelling reasons we could benefit from rethinking how much and the way consume:
Burying our heads in the sand will only be bad news for wildlife, and for us, in the long run. What is it that brings you happiness, and could you be happier consuming less?
Continuing our theme on bioenergy, we invited Danna Smith, Executive Director of Dogwood Alliance to share the threat it poses to America's forests and wildlife...
I was born and raised on the Atlantic coast of the Southern US. I spent most of my youthful years romping around in the woods, building forts, pretending to be lost in the wild and raised by animals, chasing butterflies, mimicking bird calls and otherwise reveling in the magical spaces created by the coastal forests that defined my place in the world… my home. And while most of my younger years were spent playing in these forests, I have spent the larger part of my adult life fighting to protect them from destructive industrial logging.
Today, one of the biggest threats to the forests in this part of the world is coming from European utility companies. At a time when scientific evidence is mounting that burning trees for electricity will actually result in increased carbon emissions when compared to coal over the next 30 to 50 years, utilities in Europe are converting coal burning power plants to wood, all in the name of “renewable energy.” Beyond the climate impacts, Europe’s use of wood to generate electricity threatens the survival of many unique species found in the forests of the Southern US.
In 2012, the Southern US emerged as the world’s largest exporter of wood pellets – the overwhelming majority of which are exported and burned in European power plants to generate electricity. Sixteen wood pellet facilities combined to export over 1.5 million tons or wood pellets to major European utility companies including Drax, RWE, Electrobel and E.On. An additional fifteen wood pellet facilities are currently proposed and market analysts project that wood pellet exports from the Southern US to Europe will more than triple to 5.7 million tons by 2015.
These wood pellet facilities, which are located within reasonable proximity to shipping ports, rely heavily on forests in the coastal plain of the South. These majestic forests with their intricate network of richly-diverse bottomland forested wetlands flanked by natural upland pine woodlands provide important habitat to countless species such as the black bear and the gopher tortoise. They are home to the world’s highest concentration of carnivorous plants, including the infamous Venus flytrap. Approximately 30% of threatened and endangered species in the Southeast depend on the bottomland hardwood wetland forests in the region.
In addition, about 85% of eastern North American bird species rely on these forests as well. Bird species at particular risk from industrial logging include the Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo and Prothonotary Warblers. Swallow-tailed Kites, a threatened landbird in the Southeastern US, have become a flagship for the conservation of bottomland hardwood forests. This increasingly rare bird has undergone one of the most drastic range restrictions of all North American landbirds, declining to a mere 15 to 25 percent of its historic range. Extensive logging of bottomland hardwood forests is considered a primary cause.
Years of intense industrial logging by paper and wood products manufacturers has already taken a toll on countless species, many of which have been hanging on by a thread. Land trusts have helped to purchase and protect some of the most special places in the region, though most forests still lack adequate protection. In addition, a recent promising trend of improved forestry practices by the paper industry (brought about by pubic campaigns) might have given some of these species some much needed space to recover. But, sadly, their future remains uncertain as industrial logging accelerates due to the demand by European utility companies for wood pellets.
Burning trees to generate electricity is bad for climate and forests and converting coal burning power plants to wood is not the path to a clean energy future. There is a path forward to a clean energy future that does not involve burning fossil fuels. Conservation and efficiency combined with power generated by the sun and wind are much better options; but, unfortunately European utilities are on the wrong track in turning to forests as a primary fuel source for generating electricity.
Danna Smith is a founder and executive director of Dogwood Alliance. She holds a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Emory University. Prior to founding Dogwood Alliance, she worked for Greenpeace US.
Since 1996, Dogwood Alliance has increased protection for millions of acres of Southern forests by transforming the way corporations, landowners and communities value them for their climate, wildlife and water benefits. Dogwood Alliance has revolutionized the environmental practices of some of the world’s largest corporations. In addition to long-term work on driving sustainability in the paper industry, for the past four years the group has increased its focus on the destructive practices of the bioenergy industry. For more information on the organization please visit, www.dogwoodalliance.org.
What are your thoughts on biomass? What do you think the Government should be doing to make our energy system better for the climate and for wildlife?
Guest blogger: Matt Williams, Climate Change Policy Officer
My final couple of weeks in the RSPB climate change team are set to be exciting, as MPs prepare to debate the UK’s Energy Bill, which will shape the energy sources used to power Britain for the next forty years. This vital piece of legislation could prove crucial in whether the UK meets its carbon reduction targets, and provides an opportunity for us to shape the way we generate our energy and reduce the impacts on nature.
It also provides an opportunity to address the increasing role of biomass, where energy is generated by burning organic material, usually wood. Using certain wastes or residues for energy can be sensible options that help to reduce emissions and meet our renewable energy targets, but not all bioenergy is a good idea - Government plans to burn wood from newly harvested trees are bad news for wildlife and the climate.
This is of particular concern to the RSPB and we, along with Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, recently published a report showing that burning whole trees in biomass power plants can be even more polluting than coal power, widely seen as the most polluting form of energy generation, and can also have a devastating impact on wildlife.
And it's not just us talking about it, the Economist have published an interesting article on the subject which you can read here.
UK demand for trees to burn will result in unsustainable pressure on forests, particularly in North America. Biodiversity rich forests there are under strain, with special wildlife such as the swallow-tailed kite and the Venus fly trap already threatened. We’ll have a blog on the dangers to this special wildlife in the coming days.
There is an overwhelming consensus between green groups and businesses that the best way to position the UK as a modern, efficient economy, attracting investment and creating jobs, while cutting carbon emissions and controlling energy prices, is to use the Energy Bill to decarbonise our electricity supply by 2030.
We are calling on the UK Government to use the Energy Bill to create a sustainable biomass sector that leads to genuine emissions reductions.
Please write to your MP today and call on them to only support sustainable biomass.
Ask them to support our vital amendments to the UK Energy Bill to help us ensure that our future energy generation is sustainable and takes the needs of wildlife and the environment into account.
Let us know if your MP replies and why not tell us what else you think the Government should be doing to make our energy system better for the climate and for wildlife, by commenting below?