International groups warn that new German subsidies for coal-to biomass conversions could cause damage to forests around the world
25 environmental NGOs from the USA and Estonia sent a letter to members of the Bundesrat ahead of last week’s debate about a reform to the Renewable Energy Law (EEG) which, the groups fear, could result in subsidies for converting coal plants with wood pellets, instead of replacing them with non-emissive, clean renewable energy.
The groups warn that subsidies for converting coal plants to biomass would pose a serious new threat to forests in the Southeastern USA and the Baltic States, where wood pellet producers routinely source wood from the clearcutting of wildlife- and carbon-rich mature forests.
They point out that Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK, where coal power stations have been converted to biomass, import many million of tonnes of pellets from both regions between them.
Scientists, including the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC), have warned that efforts to substitute fossil fuels with reliance on forest biomass set back efforts to address climate change by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
Enviva, the largest US pellet producer, has repeatedly stated in public that they expect a large new market in Germany, provided subsidies are made available.
The NGOs call on the Bundesrat to reject all proposals for additional subsidies for forest biomass energy and to reserve such subsidies to clean, non-emissive renewables such as wind and solar power, as well as associated renewable heat infrastructure (e.g. heat pumps) in the Renewable Energy Law, the proposed new 1 billion Euro renewable heat subsidy and the coal phaseout law.
Rita Frost, Campaigns Director at Dogwood Alliance states: “In the Southeastern USA, Enviva consistently sources biodiverse natural forests for biomass production. Those forests play a vital role not just as wildlife habitat but also to help regulate the climate. Mature forest ecosystems remove and store large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and they protect communities from the worst effects of droughts and floods. German policymakers must not repeat the mistakes made by the UK, Netherlands, and Denmark in subsidizing coal-to-biomass conversions.”
Sebastian Scholz, NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) supports the call made by US and Estonian groups: “To reach climate targets we need to focus on energy savings and environmental friendly power generation from wind and solar energy. Substituting fossil fuels with forest biomass would cause significant harm to biodiversity whilst scientific evidence clearly shows that cutting down trees for energy is no better for the climate than burning coal. Renewable energy subsidies must be reserved for genuinely low-carbon, clean forms of energy.”
Uku Lilleväli from Estonian Fund for Nature adds: “In Estonia, logging – nearly all done by clearcuts – has been intensifying at record levels. This has a detrimental impact on the country’s biodiversity, for instance, the number of forest birds has been in steep decline, and its forest carbon sink, making it more difficult for our country to meet its own climate goals. Germany must not fuel the demand for biomass and intensify the logging further.”
Jane Ballenthien from Robin Wood adds: “US and Estonian groups are right to warn of threats to their forests, however the growing use of wood for biomass in Germany – and the possibility of converting coal plants to wood in future – threaten our own forests, too. Coal-to-biomass conversions would create a long-term greater demand for wood, ultimately requiring even more intensive logging. This is the last thing our forests need in the context of worsening impacts of climate change on forests.”
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Rita Frost, Dogwood Alliance, [email protected], +1 512-423-0620
Uku Lilleväli, Estonian Fund for Nature, [email protected], +372 5661999
Link to the open letter: https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2020/open-letteragainst-german-coal-to-biomass-conversions
The European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) has warned that it is “it is inevitable that the initial impact of replacing coal with forest biomass in power stations is to increase atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.”
See the letter here: https://www.dogwoodalliance.org/offener-brief-biomasse/