The European Union has committed to increasing the use of renewable energy in its energy mix and decreasing Green House Gas (GHG), including carbon, emissions. Wood-based biomass accounts for over 60% of all EU domestic biomass supplied for energy purposes , which is the most important element of the EU renewable energy mix. Its main use is in the heating & cooling sector with 83% relative share, but also growing in electricity generation.
The utilization of firewood as the main form of solid biomass received considerable attention in the past years as a renewable source of energy, because of its potential to reduce Europe’s dependence on fossil fuel-based energy. However, the sustainability of fuelwood production and whether bioenergy from forests should be considered as renewable or “zero carbon” energy source has recently been widely questioned. The civil society sector has recently called for stopping subsidies for powerplants (NRDC, 2019). According to a group of plaintiffs, who took the EU to court, burning firewood shall not be treated as renewable energy, because it is not a solution leading to meet the climate goals.
The EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy also increased the EU level ambition on protecting and restoring forest ecosystems with a clear target to protect the last remaining old-growth / primary forests and increase the proportion of strictly protected areas to 10% of the total landmass of the EU (According to the Forest Europe 2015 report, the current level of undisturbed forests in Europe is only 4%).
This increasing ambition to protect forest happens at the time when the carbon stock in Europe’s forests is decreasing. Therefore, the importance of protecting ‘unmanaged’ forests must be recognised in reversing this process. In order to keep carbon out of the atmosphere and to meet the Paris Agreement goals, the remaining primary forests must be protected and secondary forests should be allowed to continue growing to preserve existing carbon stocks and accumulate additional stocks. Scientific evidence suggests that ‘unmanaged’ forests have higher total biomass carbon stock than secondary forests being actively managed for commodity production or recently abandoned.
The 24 National Energy and Climate Plans of the EU Member States, which are available in English, suggests that half of the MSs (12) are clearly planning to increase to utilisation of solid biomass.
Only 6 MS indicated clearly the decrease of the volume of solid biomass use. This information suggests that the volume of solid biomass use including the residential firewood for heating likely continues to grow on an EU-27 level with various Member States specific focus by 2030.
Based on these consideration, two clear binding targets must be urgently set up for the EU-27:
- The EU must harmonise its biodiversity protection targets with the climate targets and clearly focus on increasing carbon stock in forests as suggested in the study entitled “Carbon impacts of biomass consumed in the EU: quantitative assessment” commissioned by DG ENER and published in 2015 concludes that “A decarbonisation scenario involving de-prioritisation of bioenergy consumption in the EU post 2020 (Scenario D, ‘Back off’) achieves the biggest improvement in total annual GHG emissions reductions
- The current subsidies invested in burning biomass should be directed in truly renewable energy sources and improving the energy efficiency. This should be paralleled with a clear goal to decrease the overall energy need in the EU 27.
Failing to do so will hamper the climate – neutrality process as well as promote, instead of preventing, biodiversity and forest loss.
 https://ec.europa.eu/clima/sites/clima/files/strategies/2020/docs/climate_package_en.pdf downloaded on 18 July 2020
2 https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC109354/biomass_4_energy_brief_online_1.pdf downloaded on 30 July 20203 https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/renewable-gross-final-energy-consumption-4/assessment-4 downloaded on 18 July 2020