The EU’s new bioenergy policy is driven by vested interests not evidence, writes Linde Zuidema.
“I want the European Union to become the world number one in renewables,” Jean-Claude Juncker declared in January 2014.
This grand ambition – along with the EU’s goal of being the world’s climate leader – was dealt a hammer blow last week, when after more than 18 months of laboured negotiations, the EU decided on its renewable energy future for the period 2021 – 2030.
Cold, hard political calculations have triumphed over scientific arguments, with the EU opting to maintain its destructive policy of burning wood for energy.
Woody biomass is the EU’s biggest source of renewable energy. But its use has attracted withering criticism in recent years, with a growing number of scientists challenging the claim that burning woody biomass reduces emissions compared to fossil fuels.
The new Renewable Energy Directive keeps in place many of the most destructive practices of the old one: increasing forest harvests, the burning of whole trees and stumps, and large scale use of biomass in inefficient electricity installations – all of which adversely affect forests and the climate.
So why, in the face of such conclusive scientific evidence, and opposition from both the public and the media, has the EU taken this path?
The answer, I believe, is politics.
The new bioenergy policy is driven by vested interests rather than evidence. These interests range from the energy and forestry sectors, to forested nations – in particular Sweden and Finland – whose economic fortunes have become increasingly reliant on the bioeconomy.
They have lobbied hard against measures restricting the use of roundwood; measures to curb harvesting their forests for bioenergy; as well as those constraining burning biomass in inefficient energy installations (resisted by Spain, Poland and the UK).
Perhaps this unfortunate decision is linked to the EU’s current unease in the face of rising populism and anti-EU sentiment across the continent?
Within the European Commission there appears to be a general reluctance to counter vested interests, which is reflected in a diminished resolve to initiate new legislative proposals under the ‘better regulation agenda’.
In this case, it has meant that effective, sustainable criteria for biomass burning have been abandoned in favour of business as usual.
Our forests and climate will be paying for this misguided policy for years to come.