Taking a Stand for Forests in the Baltics

Have you been inspired by Greta Thunberg? Is your family watching the jubilant climate parades and marches occurring in Denmark? Fired up by the kids leading school strikes on climate? Yes, I know, me too!

It’s amazing. It’s meaningful. And, most importantly, it’s leading governments around the world to step up their response and #ActOnClimate.

One of the places we’re seeing meaningful policy on climate change and renewable energy is the European Union. However, as Dogwood Alliance and our allies are all too aware of, in many cases, renewable energy legislation that incentivizes burning forests for fuel is directly threatening the ecosystems and climate sinks that we need most to help us fight climate change.

The Renewable Energy Directive II, the EU’s climate change and renewable energy policy for 2020 until 2030, falsely included biomass in the renewables club. While this decision was faulty, member states may apply their own standards to biomass energy.

Civil society is gearing up to oppose burning forests for fuel.

I traveled to Latvia and Estonia over the past week, meeting with civil society groups, the media, and hosting film screenings of BURNED to help ratchet up the people power to stop biomass in its tracks.

More and more the biomass industry is looking at the Baltic states as a potential for their sourcing needs.

In the Southern US, we’re all too aware of how this industry rapidly expands from zero to vast. We also know what happens with a booming industry that is wholly reliant on subsidies: the bust is not far off. In 2012, the Southern United States was exporting 860,000 tons of biomass.

Fast forward to 2018, and total shipments skyrocketed by over 600% to 6.6 million tons of biomass.

According to the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), the use of forest biomass as a source of “green energy” is set to increase by a staggering 250% over the next decade. Latvia and Estonia are experiencing that increase now.

Two of the major importers hoping to source Baltic state biomass are Denmark and the Netherlands. In 2018, the Netherlands demanded 160,000 tonnes in pellets. Starting this year, the demand has shot up thanks to subsidies, which will allow Dutch coal power stations to co-fire up to 4 million tonnes of wood pellets with coal. One of Denmark’s power stations, the Avedore power station near Copenhagen owned by Ørsted, burns 1.2 million tonnes of wood pellets a year.

The Netherlands and Denmark already demand huge sums of wood pellets from the Southern United States. And yet, they want more.

Meeting with civil society groups and activists in Latvia and Estonia invigorated my sense that the forest defender movement is strong and growing. The global demand for biomass is growing, but the movement to stop biomass in its tracks is formidable. Responding to a remark that the battle against the incentivization of biomass seems like it’s only uphill, Liis Kuresoo, forest expert at the Estonian Fund for Nature, put the fight into historical context for us:

“Estonians’ recent history is living through the fall of the Soviet Union. The fall of the USSR wasn’t only the fall of communism in our country, but it was a collapse of everything: education, the military, and the economy. But, we made it through. We are stronger economically than we ever have been. We were resilient then, and we will be able to be resilient again. Estonians have great pride for our forests and won’t stand for the burning of our forests as a false solution to climate change.”

The threat that the biomass industry poses to our forests has forced us into a global fight.

Our forests are being destroyed to be burned in countries halfway around the world based on the false assumption that it will stop global warming. Building community with activists in the Baltic region reminds me so much of home. While the reasons for protecting our forests are individualized in their own way and specific to the country at hand, people everywhere know that #OurForestsArentFuel and that we must #Stand4Forests. Burning forest biomass, no matter where it’s coming from, can’t reduce emissions when compared with fossil fuels within meaningful timeframes to avoid the worst dangers of climate change. Policymakers must continue to Act on Climate, but focus on investments in genuinely clean and renewable energy as well as ambitious agendas to protect, restore, and expand forests.

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