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Burning forests for biomass is a really bad idea

Standing forests sequester carbon, a crucial service to our planet threatened by climate change. Forests shelter wildlife. The progressive destruction of the world’s forests is an ecological disaster. Yet, wood is widely considered a “renewable” energy source and the forest biomass industry is booming.

This is largely due to generous subsidies stemming from a 1997 policy which erroneously considers energy from forest biomass to be carbon neutral. Logged trees can be replaced, it is true, but it takes some 50 or 100 years for new trees to mature, a timescale the planet cannot afford. And burning wood for electricity actually emits more carbon than coal per unit of energy. The CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for centuries.

A clearcut forest

The myth of carbon neutrality permits countries to burn forest biomass without counting the carbon emissions against their Paris Agreement pledges, thus giving a false, on-paper-only accounting of reductions.

UK-based Drax, the world’s largest user of wood pellets for energy production, enjoys more than $1 billion annually in government subsidies because biomass is technically deemed a carbon-neutral energy source.

Arial view of Enviva in North Carolina, USA

Meanwhile, an environmental disaster is underway across the southeastern United States as trees are cut down from forests and turned into millions of tons of wood pellets to be exported and burned as fuel in European power plants. Japan is converting coal-fired power plants to co-fire with wood pellets and coal. Vietnam as well as Canada and the U.S. will likely clear cut thousands of acres of rainforest to meet Japan’s surging biomass demand.

In February, more than 500 scientists and economists signed a letter calling on governments around the world to stop treating the burning of biomass as carbon neutral.

- Julie Wornan



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Silent Forests

Stop burning trees for energy

Our Forests Aren't Fuel

Scientist Letter to President Biden, President von der Leyen, President Michel, Prime Minister Suga, and President Moon

Dutch to limit forest biomass subsidies

Wood smoke contains harmful pollutants

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