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More than 500 scientists and economists implored world leaders last week to stop treating as emissions-free the burning of wood from forests to make energy and heat, and to end subsidies now driving the explosive demand for wood pellets. Both actions, they write, are causing escalating deforestation in the Southeast US, Western Canada and Eastern Europe.
The letter was received Feb. 11 by US President Joseph Biden and European Union President Ursula Von der Leyen, as well as Charles Michel, president of the European Council, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The document is expected to soon be sent to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“We the undersigned scientists and economists commend each of you for the ambitious goals you have announced… to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050,” the two-page letter begins. “Forest preservation and restoration should be key tools for achieving this goal and simultaneously helping to address our global biodiversity crisis.
However, “We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy.”
In the EU alone, nearly 60% of renewable energy already comes from forest biomass, amounting to millions of metric tons of wood pellets burned annually. The United Kingdom, The Netherlands and Denmark are among the leading consumers of biomass for energy and heat, while Japan and South Korea are now converting coal-fired power plants to burn wood pellets.
Under the EU’s second Renewable Energy Directive (REDII) — tolerated by the United Nations under the Paris Climate Agreement — emissions from burning forest biomass are not counted at all. This significant carbon accounting loophole underreports emissions data at a time when global temperatures are rising fast, causing accelerating drought, devastating storms, destructive wildfires and sea-level rise nearly everywhere on earth.
Rather than being a carbon neutral climate solution, the scientists write, cutting forests and burning wood pellets is more polluting than coal, and “emits more carbon up smokestacks than using fossil fuels,” while sacrificing the carbon-sequestration capacity of growing trees which is lost to produce wood pellets.