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Concerns over EU plans to minimise use of ‘whole trees’ in bioenergy production

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Bioenergy Europe said it 'regrets' the terminology used in the European Commission’s new biodiversity strategy, which references minimising the use of ‘whole trees’ in energy production.

Within the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, the Commission said that to better understand and monitor the potential climate and biodiversity risks, it is assessing the EU and global biomass supply and demand and related sustainability. The work forms part of the Commission’s ambition to ‘protect and restore forest ecosystems’. The results of its work on the use of forest biomass for energy production will be published by the end of 2020.

To mitigate climate and environmental risks ‘created by the increasing use of certain sources for bioenergy’, the Commission said the revised Renewable Energy Directive includes strengthened sustainability criteria. The Commission said: “The use of whole trees and food and feed crops for energy production – whether produced in the EU or imported – should be minimised.”

Bioenergy Europe praised the Commission’s efforts to propose “bold measures” to fight climate change and biodiversity loss and welcomed the Commission's acknowledgement that bioenergy is a “win-win” solution for energy generation. However, the organisation said it regrets the jargon used with regards to the transformative approach for the bioenergy sector as foreseen in the strategy. It said: “The reference to a minimisation of a certain feedstock category use and whole trees will have the adverse effect of complicating the already stringent compliance criteria for bioenergy feedstocks.”

According to Bioenergy Europe, the wood market prices guarantee an efficient allocation of forest resources, as the bioenergy sector purchases what is left by other sectors, including low-value and otherwise unmarketable thinnings (whole trees). The organisation added: “With the REDII directive entering into force in 2021, the bioenergy industry will have to comply with unique sustainability criteria.

“These criteria already include a reference to wood harvesting practices in line with biodiversity protection. Our industry relies on this key milestone to deliver on its commitment to contribute toward a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.”

Despite its concerns about the wording of the strategy, the organisation said it was pleased that bioenergy was considered by the Commission to be a “win-win solution”, adding: “It is a readily available source of energy and green growth. Bioenergy represents the biggest share of RES in the EU, accounting for almost 60% of renewable energy consumption and offers an undeniable positive effect on the environment with 7% greenhouse gas saved in 2017 in the EU.”

Jean-Marc Jossart, secretary-general at Bioenergy Europe, commented: “We are once more facing a far-reaching plan that will certainly help the EU leading the fight against climate change. However, more attention should be given to the actual efforts made in the last years by the whole bioenergy value chain.

“Any strategy aimed at preserving biodiversity should be fully embraced but must be coherent with the reality on the ground and misleading jargon must be avoided at all cost.”