In a letter to world leaders, more than 650 experts pleaded with them to put an end to the burning of trees for energy because it harms wildlife habitats and violates international agreements on biodiversity and climate change.
In the run-up to the UN biodiversity meeting COP15, which gets underway on December 7 in Montreal, scientists have urged nations to switch from utilizing bioenergy from forests to create electricity and heat to using renewable energy sources.
We are writing to voice our worry about the widespread use of forest bioenergy to provide power and heat, which is an emerging and growing threat to biodiversity. The scientists wrote in the letter, “We request that you and your countries cease all reliance on forest bioenergy and, over time, replace it fully with alternative renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.”
The letter was sent to President Xi Jinping of China, President Joe Biden of the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom, President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission, President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan.
Unfortunately, many nations are relying more and more on forest biomass to achieve net zero targets since it has been falsely labeled as carbon neutral. When we most need the trees on our planet, this is hurting them. The letter claimed that contrary to what the logging industry maintains, many of the wood pellets burned at power plants for bioenergy come from complete trees rather than logging trash and residue.
By 2030, bioenergy is expected to account for one-third of all energy classified as low-carbon, according to a forecast from the International Energy Agency, according to The Guardian.
Although we must change our energy system, we cannot do it at the expense of the environment. Energy security is a significant societal concern, but burning our magnificent woods is not the solution. According to Professor Alexander Antonelli, Director of Science at Kew Gardens and one of the letter’s primary authors, labeling this “green energy” is inaccurate and could worsen the world’s biodiversity catastrophe, as Carbon Pulse highlighted.
According to The Guardian, $6.81 billion in subsidies have been provided over the last ten years to assist the burning of biomass as part of the UK’s net zero ambition.
This logging is occurring at an alarming rate. For instance, the letter stated that 5.7 million metric tonnes of wood pellets were exported from the US to the UK in 2019, necessitating the destruction of an area bigger than the UK’s New Forest.
Carbon that would have been stored in forests is released into the atmosphere when trees are cut down for bioenergy.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently highlighted the crucial role that forests play in keeping their stored carbon out of the atmosphere, in addition to its effects on wildlife. According to the experts’ letter, harvesting for bioenergy substantially impairs forests’ capacity to store and sequester carbon.
According to The Guardian, burning wood emits more carbon dioxide into the sky than burning gas or even coal. Additionally, the gathering and delivery of the wood require more energy.
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Estonia, Canada, and The United States Provide the Majority of The Wood used for Biomass.
The fact that many of these trees come from old, biodiverse, and/or climate-critical forests is further alarming. For instance, we are aware that the wood pellets burned in the UK are made from clear-cuts of mature hardwood forests in the North American Coastal Plain Biodiversity Hotspot in the Southeast of the United States, protected forest ecosystems in the Baltics, which are vital habitats for imperiled birds and mammals, and primary forests in Canada, including the boreal forest, one of the last intact forests in the world and a stronghold for global bird populations.
According to the letter, rare species like the prothonotary warbler, boreal woodland caribou, and black stork are already in decline as a result of the destruction and loss of these forests.
The letter made note of the fact that forests absorb about a third of fossil fuel emissions and that up to one million species could become extinct by the year 2100 due to habitat loss and fragmentation.
Biomass energy frequently uses wood that has been harvested through unethical methods like clearcutting. Investigations conducted on the ground reveal that two of the largest pellet producers in the world, Enviva, and Drax, produce their pellets using wood that has been clear-cut from forests.
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Even in reserves meant to safeguard forests and rare and endangered species, clearcutting for wood pellets takes place throughout the EU and the UK (e.g. European Union s Natura 2000 network). The scientists wrote in the letter that research in tropical forests has revealed that after a forest has been clear-cut, it takes decades, if not centuries, for it to regenerate and return to its prior level of ecosystem output and biodiversity.
The letter stated that the international community must stop using biomass as fuel if 30 percent of Earth’s land and oceans are to be maintained for wildlife by 2030. The letter found that biomass energy had the opposite effect on biodiversity and the climate than preserving forests.