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REA, USIPA hit back against Chatham House biomass report

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The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA) and the US Industrial Pellet Association (USIPA) have slammed a recent report by think tank Chatham House, which the organisations claim misrepresents well-established carbon accounting methodologies for the use of biomass in energy.

The report found that US-sourced wood pellets burned in the UK were responsible for 13-16 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2019, equivalent to the emissions from between 6 and 7 million passenger vehicles, adding that “this makes it less likely that the UK will achieve its climate targets”.

In response, the REA has called for fair, honest and science-led debate that avoids polarising statements and recognises the role of biomass in decarbonising energy systems.

Commenting on the report, Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, chief executive of the REA, said: “Today’s Chatham House report misrepresents well-established carbon accounting methodologies for the use of biomass in energy, set out and affirmed by the thousands of scientists at the UN IPCC.

“This is an approach that has also been verified by leading independent scientific bodies such as the UK’s Climate Change Committee and the International Energy Agency, whose scenarios for achieving net-zero carbon emissions all demonstrate a critical role for the use of sustainable biomass and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

“Calls to restrict the types of biomass feedstocks used fail to appreciate that in sustainably managed forests, where biomass feedstocks originate, forestry activities are driven by higher-value sectors such as supplying wood to the construction and furniture industries, which pay much higher prices for wood fibre than the bioenergy sector.

“These activities drive the availability of low-value residues and thinnings as a by-product of sustainable forestry, which then go to bioenergy because they lack other markets.”

Skorupska noted that the use of this type of biomass is also certified through independent schemes, such as the Sustainable Biomass Programme, which audit sustainable supply chain practices and “go beyond” even the strict national sustainability governance arrangements in place in the UK and EU.

“This results in increased carbon stocks in the forest where biomass originates,” said Skorupska, “as proven by real-world data from forests in the US, for example, where forest cover and sequestered carbon have more than doubled since the 1950s, due to careful stewardship and supply of sustainable products.”

USIPA echoed these points, stating that the report’s conclusions are “deeply flawed” and based on a “total rejection of carbon accounting and reporting guidelines as determined by the world’s leading authority on climate science”.

“That Chatham House continues to cling to a thoroughly debunked position while vigorously promoting it to the public as a consensus view, deeply undermines its standing as a trusted forum for debate and dialogue,” said the organisation.

USIPA also highlighted the UN IPCC’s Sixth Assessment report, which noted “indisputably” that sustainable biomass is essential to limiting global temperature rise and the potential of BECCS, which could extract almost 5 billion tons of CO2 annually – twice the EU’s annual emissions – by mid-century, increasing to 17 billion by 2100.

Skorupska concluded: “The REA calls for a resetting of this increasingly polarised debate. With COP26 approaching, it is essential that a fair, honest, and science-led debate is had.

“This must recognise the need for bioenergy in decarbonising energy systems and enable all stakeholders to engage with the established and verified carbon accounting methodologies that sit behind bioenergy use.”