NGOs condemn coal/biomass industry appointment to Climate Change Committee

Representative of coal and tree-burning industries appointed to UK Climate Change Committee

Appointment of senior Drax official to advisory body represents “shocking undermining of the Committee’s independence and credibility”

​27th March 2017 – UK and US environmental campaign groups are condemning today’s appointment of a senior Drax representative Rebecca Heaton to the UK’s Committee on Climate Change [1], warning that it will seriously undermine the credibility of a statutory body, which was set up to provide independent advice to the Government about reducing carbon emissions [2].

Doug Parr, Policy Director at Greenpeace UK, “It’s surprising that the first business appointment to the Climate Change Committee should come from a sector as controversial as biomass and fossil fuel. It is well acknowledged that biomass can produce more carbon emissions than the coal it replaces, and major questions have been raised over public subsidies being used for unsustainable practices. Most energy companies see the future as being one of modern, decentralised energy systems, so experience from conventional, centralised power stations becomes less relevant. The CCC will have to work hard to ensure they are beyond reproach in transparently examining future technological scenarios, especially on bio-energy and decentralisation, to maximise benefits for the environment and the climate.”

Dr. Heaton will remain Head of Sustainability and Policy at Drax power station in Yorkshire, the world’s biggest wood-burning power station and the UK’s biggest coal burning plant and carbon emitter. Wood pellets burned by the plant are manufactured primarily from forests in North America, including trees clear-felled in hardwood swamps of the Southern U.S. The transition to burning wood means Drax now emits more greenhouse gases than when it burned only coal. A study published by the UK’s own Department for Energy and Climate Change in 2014 [3] confirmed that carbon pollution from burning trees for electricity can exceed that from coal for several decades. Drax collected at least £536 million in subsidies last year for burning wood [4], which is treated as a renewable energy by the UK government.

Almuth Ernsting, Co-director of the UK-based Biofuelwatch, states: “Drax has a vested interest in perpetuating the Government’s false accounting for biomass as ‘carbon neutral’, in skewing renewable energy subsidies further against low-carbon wind and solar power. It also has a vested interest in preventing or delaying a mandatory coal phase-out.  Continued coal burning is responsible for high carbon emissions as well as human rights abuses and environmental destruction linked to mining.”

Drax has stated that it will stop burning coal, but only if it is allowed to convert wholly to biomass. This would require doubling its current biomass subsidies of around £1.5 million a day [5].

Adam Macon, Campaign Director at the US-based Dogwood Alliance, says “We’ve documented forests being destroyed to make the wood pellets Drax burns. By appointing Heaton, the Committee of Climate Change is giving a thumbs up to ongoing clear-felling of our forests, the best defence against global climate change.”

Dr. Mary Booth, Director of the US-based Partnership for Policy Integrity, adds: “Dr. Heaton does not acknowledge that burning trees for energy worsens carbon pollution in any timeframe meaningful for addressing climate change. She claims that biomass produces ‘carbon savings’ that are more than ‘80% compared to coal’ – ignoring UK government findings that show the opposite.

Sasha Stashwick, senior energy advocate at the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “The Committee on Climate Change is supposed to provide independent advice to the UK government on issues like the real climate impacts of burning biomass for electricity. Appointing a representative of Drax, which stands to win or lose hundreds of millions in subsidies from the outcome of that advice, is a clear conflict of interest.”

David Carr, General Counsel at the US-based Southern Environmental Law Center said, “The CCC is meant to advise the UK on how to reduce its carbon emissions. By converting from burning coal to burning trees, Drax is increasing rather than decreasing its carbon emissions. The CCC should be promoting energy sources like solar and wind that eliminate carbon emissions, not old technologies like burning wood that increase carbon emissions.”

Notes:
[1] See https://www.theccc.org.uk/2017/03/27/dr-rebecca-heaton-to-join-committee-on-climate-change/ . Note that Rebecca Heaton will retain her position with Drax while serving on the Committee on Climate Change.

[2] See https://www.theccc.org.uk/about/

[3] See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biomass-calculator-launched – This report was co-authored by the late David MacKay, then Scientific Advisor for DECC. For a list of peer-reviewed studies about the climate impacts of wood-based bioenergy, see http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/biomass-resources/resources-on-biomass/

[4] See https://drax.cdnist.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/FYR-2016-RNS-Final.pdf

[5] See https://www.ft.com/content/2148daa2-05a4-11e6-9b51-0fb5e65703ce . Drax is currently receiving £1.5 million a day in subsidies for the conversion of three out of six units to biomass. Future subsidies for more unit conversions would be paid at a higher rate than those for the first two units converted by Drax.

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