“Bioenergy Burns Forests”—Environmentalists Denounce UN’s Bioenergy Themed International Day of Forests

Joint press release by Global Forest Coalition, Biofuelwatch Timberwatch, Dogwood Alliance, International Tree Foundation 

March 20, 2017: The UNFAO’s [1] “Forests and Energy” theme for this year’s International Day of Forests on March 21 [2] misleadingly promotes bioenergy from burning wood from forests as well as from monoculture tree plantations as “sustainable” energy sources. This promotion by FAO comes despite evidence that bioenergy is increasingly contributing to the destruction of forests, and is no better for the climate than fossil fuels, say a large number of international environmental activist groups in a statement [3] and letter to FAO [4] released today.

By calling forests “nature’s power house” [5], FAO wants to celebrate the use of forests and tree plantations for meeting people’s basic energy needs like cooking or heat, as well as for electricity, industry and potential biofuels for transportation.

FAO conflates both industrial-scale and traditional uses, and perpetuates the myth that industrial bioenergy is renewable and carbon neutral say’s the joint statement.

“The FAO is promoting large scale burning of wood for industries like transportation and aviation, or in converting coal fired plants. Bioenergy today receives lucrative subsidies and climate funding as it is now considered a ‘renewable’ alternative to coal and fossil fuels, but in reality it is not contributing to halting global warming at all,” said Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch.

As one example, half of Drax coal power station in the UK, with generous government subsidies, has been converted to burn wood as an alternative to coal. This requires the company to import pellets made from over 12 million tons of wood annually – more than the total wood production of UK [6].

The industry maintains that it relies almost entirely on “wood wastes and residues” [7]. The joint statement debunks this claim, pointing out that “wood wastes and residues are simply not enough. The biomass industry relies on quality wood, sourced directly from forests, and often even shipped to European energy installations all the way from the United States and Russia.” Japan, South Korea and Australia are following suit.

Various scientific studies and governmental agencies have already accepted that bioenergy is not carbon neutral, also because it takes too long for trees to grow back [8].

Speculative investments are also increasing, and so are expansions of monoculture tree plantations in Africa and South America in response to the growing demand for wood based bioenergy. This is raising concerns about further land grabbing, human rights violations, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and more [9].

“It’s as if the FAO is advertising for the bioenergy industry. This is a naked disregard for international efforts – including FAO’s – to promote sustainable development and tackle climate change,” said Simone Lovera of the Global Forest Coalition.

[1] The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization – http://www.fao.org/home/en/
[2] The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 March the International Day of Forests in 2012. The Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests. On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns. source- http://www.fao.org/international-day-of-forests/en/
[3] http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2017/fao-int-day-forests/
[4] http://www.eubioenergy.com/
[5] see: http://www.fao.org/international-day-of-forests/en/
[6] see http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/axedrax-campaign/
[7] See for example IEA Bioenergy’s claim: “that in the EU, by-products and residues from silviculture are the most common type of feedstock” http://www.ieabioenergy.com/publications/iea-bioenergy-response/ . This is not backed up by evidence.
[8] Groups such as the Scientific Committee of the European Environmental Agency, Chatham House, the Science Advisory Board of the US Environmental Protection Agency and other scientific journal articles have all clearly rejected bioenergy’s carbon neutrality myth.
see: http://www.bioenergy-news.com/display_news/11918/woodbased_biomass_used_for_heat_is_not_slowing_down_climate_warning_researcher_says/1/
[9] See for example http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2014/biomass-landgrabbing-report/ and http://biofuelwatch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/eucalyptus-plantations-for-energy-online.pdf