Increasing renewable energy in Europe should not entail cutting down and burning entire trees, more than 650 scientists warn in a letter sent on Tuesday to Europarliamentarians ahead of their vote in Strasbourg next week on extending the Renewable Energy Directive. Wood residue and waste – such as those generated in manufacturing paper and furniture – are already being used as biomass alternatives to fossil fuel, which reduces the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that would have been given off if they were simply allowed to decompose. On the other hand, cutting trees for bio-energy releases carbon that would otherwise have been locked in by forests. It also uses up wood that otherwise would have been used for other products. This would lead to the cutting of other trees, elsewhere, to replace them, the scientists warn.
Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, former deputy chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is among the signatories. “The probability of the revised directive increasing carbon emissions is high,” he stresses. “And the impact on the forests of the entire world would be very important. Even if a small fraction of the European demand were met, that would cause a significant increase in CO2 emissions.” Van Ypersele also points to the risk that other countries might feel encouraged to follow Europe’s example and begin to burn wood.
Cutting trees for biomass would also have an impact on biodiversity and the world’s forests. For Europe, it would lead to a contradiction between words and actions. “Europe encourages countries such as Indonesia and Brazil to protect their forests, but the directive’s message is ‘cut down your forests as long as someone uses them for energy’,” the scientists say.
Europarliamentarians are due to vote on revising the Renewable Energy Directive, the Energy Efficiency Directive and a governance component at their plenary session next week. The European People’s Party, EPP, the biggest group in the European Parliament, wants the vote postponed, but a majority exists for keeping it on the agenda, members of the Green bloc indicated on Tuesday.