Government approval of Drax’s BECCS project will cause more forest destruction, campaigners warn

Government approval of Drax’s BECCS project will cause more forest destruction, campaigners warn

  • For immediate release 16th Jan 2024

Secretary of State Claire Coutinho’s decision to approve Drax’s planning application for a carbon capture project, published today [1], has been denounced by environmental campaigners who fear it will pave the way for more forests around the world to be cut down, and millions more tonnes of CO2 to be emitted into the atmosphere every year, using the fig-leaf of an unproven, untested carbon capture technology.

During the planning inquiry, which started in January 2023, Biofuelwatch led the evidence against Drax’s planning application, setting out numerous serious concerns. Those concerns included the fact that Drax’s carbon capture tests have been limited to a total of just 27 tonnes therefore, the effectiveness and the likely air and water pollution of the proposed carbon capture technology remain unknown. 

Furthermore, as Biofuelwatch argued during the Planning Inquiry, Drax’s ability to continue operating its biomass units depends on subsidies which, in turn, will from 2027 depend on planning consent for future carbon capture. [2] Those biomass units burn millions of tonnes of wood pellets every year, all of them imported, mostly from the southeastern USA and British Columbia.

As a BBC Panorama programme revealed in October 2022, at least some of the pellets from British Columbia have been sourced from the clearcutting of primary and old-growth forests. [3] In the southeastern United States, Drax sources a significant proportion of wood pellets from Enviva, who routinely use mature trees from logging coastal hardwood forests in a global biodiversity hotspot. [4]

Katy Brown from Biofuelwatch [5] says: “This decision is bad news for forests and bad news for the climate. Burning trees is not carbon neutral – Drax is the UK’s single biggest carbon emitter – so its claims of achieving negative emissions are farcical. That the UK government is relying on BECCS to meet its climate objectives is extremely dangerous – putting this much faith in BECCS as a climate solution is like trusting that believing in Father Christmas will make him real. The real reason Drax is pushing for BECCS is because they know they won’t be allowed to carry on burning trees unabated without the promise of capturing the carbon some time in the future and the UK government has fallen for the lie. As long as Drax burns trees it will continue to drive forest destruction around the world, harming local communities, and contributing to biodiversity loss and climate change.”

Molly Griffith-Jones  from the Stop Burning Trees Coalition [6] adds: “This  announcement is disastrous. By approving Drax’s BECCS application, the government is showing that they are willing to gamble our future on risky and unproven technology, rather than commit to real climate action. We need investment and jobs in wind, solar, hydropower, retrofitting, not locking us into dirty tree burning energy for decades to come.

Matt Williams, Senior Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, states:  “Planning permission isn’t much use if it’s for a technology that doesn’t exist yet, wrecks the world’s forests, and is probably too expensive for the UK to ever afford. With estimates that BECCS at Drax could need £43 billion of subsidies over 25 years this could be the UK’s next big white elephant development.




[2] This can be seen, for example, from a report published by Drax today, which warns that without support for the carbon capture project, Drax would not be able to generate any or much electricity in future:, p. 10


[4] See for example