A victory for the climate, the bioeconomy and sustainable forestry

The EU-Parliament votes on the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II)

The Parliament acknowledges the importance of sustainable forestry and the vital role that bioenergy has to play in addressing climate challenge. These are the main take aways from yesterday’s vote on the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive, which defines how the EU should promote the use renewables between 2021 and 2030.

Forest biomass sustainability criteria are established for the first time and how these modeled has been a hot topic all the way up to the voting. 

– The Parliament has defined that biomass from all parts of the tree is sustainable if forest management has been conducted in a sustainable manner. The Swedish forest industry welcomes this conclusion and we want to thank all the Swedish Members of Parliament who have worked very intensively to achieve this outcome, says Helena Sjögren, responsible for Bioenergy at the Swedish Forest Industries Federation.

The parliament says yes to tall oil

The Parliament’s position on advanced biofuels turned out better than expected prior to the voting. Tall oil remains as an approved feed stock and biofuels from tall oil can continue to be used as a sustainable replacement for fossil fuels. Furthermore, the Parliament voted in favor of a definition of advanced biofuels, which only relates to eligible feedstocks but does not refer to market conditions for the feedstocks in question.

– The biofuels outcome is a big improvement compared to the Parliament’s earlier position. However, the Parliament unfortunately also agreed that the European Commission shall have the right to not only add, but also remove, feedstocks from the list of approved ones. This will create uncertainty for investors and could make it hard for the EU and Sweden to reach the ambitious targets for renewables in transport, says Helena Sjögren. 

Autonomy over support schemes

Design of support schemes is part of the revised Directive.

– The Parliament supported that Member States may choose how to design their support schemes, which is a good thing for Sweden, since it means that we can continue with our existing green electricity certificate system instead of being forced to apply a different setup. At the same time, the Parliament states that support schemes for renewable energy must be designed in such a way that prime quality wood will not be burnt for energy. To put demands on the Member State’s design of support is much wiser than to impose additional sustainability criteria on single economic operators, which the Parliament discussed earlier. The forest industry is the biggest user of bioenergy in Sweden and it is not in our interest to burn something that can be used for higher value products, says Anna Holmberg, Director Energy Policy at the Swedish Forest Industries Federation.

The parliament connects sustainability criteria with the waste hierarchy

In discussions prior to the vote, the Parliament debated to introduce two additional criteria, which the forest industry biomass would have to show compliance with to be sustainable. A first one relating to market conditions and a second to the waste hierarchy. – The Parliament decided to keep only the second criterion, which is a step forward, but still not good enough for us. Of course, biomass should be utilized where it creates the highest value, but this should be left to the market to decide and not be regulated, says Helena Sjögren.

The waste hierarchy criterion could, depending on how it is implemented, mean that bioenergy from saw dust and black liquor would no longer be sustainable, as theoretically, there could be other uses higher up in the waste hierarchy.

This would dramatically increase costs for the Swedish forest industry, which in turn would reduce the competitiveness. However, as the additional criterion is not included in the Member States’ common approach, we hope this can be settled in the final negotiations, says Anna Holmberg.

The next step in the legislative process is the trialogue, i.e. final negotiations between the EU Commission, the Member States and the EU Parliament. The trialogue phase is expected to begin within short and be finalized during 2018.