Draft report from Environment Committee Rapporteur a deathblow for forest biomass

Bas Eickhout, miljöpartist från Nederländerna
Photo: Martin Pluimers

Things are starting to heat up in the negotiations currently underway on the European Commission's revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), which is expected to be in place in December this year. The Rapporteur for the European Parliament's Environment Committee is driving an agenda that is highly unfavourable for forest biomass and for Sweden's chances of achieving both its own and the EU's environmental targets. In order to address the climate challenge, all fossil-free alternatives are needed, of which forest biomass is a vital segment.

According to today's energy-consumption calculation procedures, 54% of the energy consumed in Sweden is renewable, of which half is bioenergy. The Rapporteur is now suggesting making it extremely hard to count forest biomass as a renewable energy source, at the same time as Sweden's renewable energy contribution is expected to increase considerably.

"This equation does not add up. If the Rapporteur's proposal were to be adopted by the Environment Committee, most of the renewable energy from the forest would no longer be considered sustainable. At the same time, the Rapporteur is expecting Sweden to achieve one of Europe's highest targets for renewable energy," says Helena Sjögren, Head of Bioenergy Policy at the Swedish Forest Industries Federation.

Advocates political micro-management

The author of the report is Bas Eickhout, Member of the European Parliament representing the Dutch Green Party (pictured above). While the EU Commission has proposed a Union binding target of at least 27% renewable energy by 2030, he is proposing one of 45%. At the same time, he clearly wants to make it more difficult to use forest biomass.

"The draft report does not state which sources will be used to achieve the higher target. From the Swedish Forest Industries Federation's perspective, all renewable energy is needed to address climate change. We must secure a level playing field between different types of renewable energy – not put them in competition with each other. As this will only benefit fossil alternatives," says Sjögren.

The content of Eickhout's draft is deeply concerning for bioenergy in that he wishes to impose the restriction that forest biomass can only be considered sustainable if classified as wastes or residues from the forest or forest industry, and if measures have been taken to avoid any negative impact of forest harvesting on soil quality, soil carbon and biodiversity.

"All harvesting has an impact, so this makes cost-efficient compliance extremely difficult. By restricting use of forest biomass for energy to wastes or residues, Eickhout is setting very firm limits. To exemplify, the report says that sawdust cannot be counted as a residue but is to be used 100% in the production of pulp, which is not how things work in reality. Eickhout is proposing that the EU should implement a cascading use of biomass via this Directive, in other words to use forest raw material in a certain order of priority. Resource-efficient use of biomass is constantly being developed by the industry and market. Indeed, any binding rules would be detrimental to such progress and would be a serious drawback to the development and growth of the bioeconomy" says Sjögren.

More carrots than sticks from the Industry Committee

The EU Parliament's Industry Committee's Rapporteur, José Blanco Lopéz, a Social Democrat from Spain, has also submitted his draft report.

"Containing more carrots than sticks, the draft report from Blanco Lopéz is considerably more positive to renewable energy from the forest and to a fossil free future. Among other things, he proposes that stakeholders who produce and use their own renewable electricity should not be burdened with fees or taxes.

"I would like to emphasize that the tendering process for renewable electricity under proposition would lead to a dismantling of the Swedish Electricity Certificate System. Furthermore, Blanco Lopéz wishes to specify exactly how much renewable energy in heating and cooling should increase, when we believe each Mmber State should be able to decide that on their own terms," says Anna Holmberg, Energy Policy Director at Swedish Forest Industries Federation.