Green Credentials of Burning Forest Biomass for Energy Demolished by New, Independent Chatham House Report

Findings: Subsidized wood power plants actually emit more carbon than burning coal

An important new report issued overnight in London has demolished the assumption that forest biomass should be considered a carbon-neutral source of energy. This has major implications for climate policy in Australia, where native forest biomass energy was controversially included into the Renewable Energy Target.

The report from the respected independent think tank Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, says that:

  • The assumption that forest biomass should be considered carbon neutral is wrong
  • The carbon released into the atmosphere from logging and combustion of forest biomass for energy can be three times higher than using fossil fuels and take centuries for new tree growth to absorb
  • It is not valid to claim that because trees absorb carbon as they grow emissions from burning them can be ignored
  • Urgent changes are needed to address serious gaps in emissions accounting for land use at the international level, and failing that the full emissions generated by burning wood in power stations should be accounted in the energy sector, as with other forms of energy

“Forest biomass energy amounts to fake green power,” said Peg Putt, CEO of Markets For Change.

“Many countries are increasing use of forest biomass as renewable energy, and the push is on in Australia to do so here under government incentives. Alarmingly, the Chatham House report concludes that uncounted emissions from a ‘biomass loophole’ are large, and significantly undermining efforts to address climate change.”

“This important analysis adds to a growing scientific consensus that far from being a climate solution, burning forest biomass, or ‘residues’ often worsens climate change by emitting more carbon than burning coal. That’s in addition to the negative impacts on forest ecosystems and wildlife.”

“Government sponsored forest biomass energy is actually hindering the fight to reduce emissions. It takes the carbon stored in forest and puts it directly into the atmosphere via the smokestack at a time when genuine non-emissive energy solutions are sorely needed.”

“Recovering the huge pulses of carbon to atmosphere from burning forest biomass takes as long as it took that forest to grow, and that is such a long time frame of decades or centuries that we will not get near breaking even via carbon sequestration during the time in which we need to reduce emissions urgently.”

“Climate damaging forest energy is set to compete directly with solar and wind and will undermine them in the restricted Australian Renewable Energy Target.”

“We can’t afford to waste public money subsidizing something that makes climate change worse. The Australian government and the individual states that are supporting this wrong-headed approach under pressure from the forest industry to entrench logging in native forests should quit now,” Ms Putt concluded.

Read more about the Chatham House report from New Scientist The EU’s renewable energy policy is making global warming worse the BBC Most wood energy schemes are a ‘disaster’ for climate change

and Biomass subsidies ‘not fit for purpose’, says Chatham House from Carbon Brief

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