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EU must not burn the world’s forests for ‘renewable’ energy–Prof Beddington & Others

December 19, 2017

By Paul Homewood


I’ve been banging the drum on this for years, and even the Guardian now seems to have seen a bit of sense.

This is from the letters column last week, and is signed by a Prof John Beddington (former Chief Scientist to the UK Govt), and 14 other leading experts, including IPCC Lead Authors:



The European Union is moving to enact a directive to double Europe’s current renewable energy by 2030. This is admirable, but a critical flaw in the present version would accelerate climate change, allowing countries, power plants and factories to claim that cutting down trees and burning them for energy fully qualifies as renewable energy.

Even a small part of Europe’s energy requires a large quantity of trees and to avoid profound harm to the climate and forests worldwide the European council and parliament must fix this flaw.

European producers of wood products have for decades generated electricity and heat as beneficial by-products, using wood wastes and limited forest residues. Most of this material would decompose and release carbon dioxide in a few years anyway, so using them to displace fossil fuels can reduce the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere in a few years too.



Unfortunately, the directive moving through parliament would go beyond wastes and residues and credit countries and companies for cutting down additional trees simply to burn them for energy. To do so has fundamentally different consequences because the carbon released into the air would otherwise stay locked up in forests.

The reasoning seems to be that so long as forests re-grow, they will eventually reabsorb the carbon released. Yet even then, the net effect – as many studies have shown – will typically be to increase global warming for decades to centuries, even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.

The reasons begin with the inherent inefficiencies in harvesting wood. Typically, around one third or more of each tree is contained in roots and small branches that are properly left in the forest to protect soils, and most of which decompose, emitting carbon. The wood that is burned releases even more carbon than coal per unit of energy generated, and burns at a lower temperature, producing less electricity – turning wood into compressed pellets increases efficiency but uses energy and creates large additional emissions.


A power plant burning wood chips will typically emit one and a half times the carbon dioxide of a plant burning coal and at least three times the carbon dioxide emitted by a power plant burning natural gas.

Although regrowing trees absorb carbon, trees grow slowly, and for some years a regrowing forest absorbs less carbon than if the forest were left unharvested.

Eventually, the new forest grows faster and the carbon it absorbs, plus the reduction in fossil fuels, can pay back the “carbon debt”, but that takes decades to centuries, depending on the forest type and use. We conservatively estimate that using deliberately harvested wood instead of fossil fuels will release at least twice as much carbon dioxide to the air by 2050 per kilowatt hour. Doing so turns a potential reduction in emissions from solar or wind into a large increase.

Time matters. Placing an additional carbon load in the atmosphere for decades means permanent damage due to more rapid melting of permafrost and glaciers, and more packing of heat and acidity into the world’s oceans. At a critical moment when countries need to be “buying time” against climate change, this approach amounts to selling the world’s limited time to combat climate change under mistaken claims of improvement.

The effect on the world’s forests, carbon and biodiversity is likely to be large because even though Europe is a large producer of wood, its harvest could only supply about 6% of its primary energy. For more than a decade, the increased use of biomass has been supplying roughly half of Europe’s increase in renewable energy. To supply even one third of the additional renewable energy likely required by 2030, Europe would need to burn an amount of wood greater than its total harvest today. This would turn a likely 6% decrease in energy emissions by 2050 under the directive through solar and wind into at least a 6% increase.


Europe’s own demand for wood would degrade forests around the world, but if other countries follow Europe’s example, the impacts would be even more dangerous. Instead of encouraging Indonesia and Brazil to preserve their tropical forests – Europe’s present position – the message of this directive is “cut your forests so long as someone burns them for energy”. Once countries are invested in such efforts, fixing the error may become impossible. To supply just an additional 3% of global energy with wood, the world needs to double its commercial wood harvests at great costs to carbon and wildlife.

Neither a requirement that forests be managed sustainably nor any other “safeguards” in the various working drafts would stop this. For example, the directive would ban wood if harvests undermined “the long-term productivity capacity of the forest”. Although that sounds good, preserving the capacity of trees to grow back still leaves more carbon in the air for at least decades. Restricting wood harvests to countries with net growing forests – another idea – would still take carbon that forests would otherwise add to their storage and instead put it in the air without meaningful global limits.

The solution is to restrict eligible forest biomass to its traditional sources of residues and waste. Legislators will likely be able to vote on such an amendment in the parliament’s plenary.

By 1850, the use of wood for bioenergy helped drive the near deforestation of western Europe even at a time when Europeans consumed relatively little energy. Although coal helped to save the forests of Europe, the solution is not to go back to burning forests. As scientists, we collectively have played key roles in the IPCC, in advising European governments, and in forest and climate research. We encourage European legislators and other policymakers to amend the present directive because the fate of much of the world’s forests is literally at stake.


For too long, the renewable lobby has been allowed to spin their own fake propaganda on this issue, keen to keep raking in the huge subsidies on offer.

Meanwhile the EU and member governments have been more interested in meeting artificial targets than genuinely reducing CO2. Allowing CO2 emissions from biomass to be ignored was always just an accounting trick.

  1. Dave Ward permalink
    December 19, 2017 11:15 am

    If a letter like that makes into the (notoriously left wing and pro AGW) Grauniad maybe there is a glimmer of hope?

  2. Joe Public permalink
    December 19, 2017 11:32 am

    Ex-FoE Executive Director Tony Juniper has taken Drax’s shilling:

    • December 19, 2017 12:05 pm

      “I’ve been on two trips to the US this year to look at the Drax supply chain & conclude it to be a positive part of the UK renewable power mix. I realise nuclear, coal and gas enthusiasts take a different view…”

      Hey, Tony Juniper, did you see any trees in the riverine formations of the southeastern US? Likely they have all been cut.

      You are darn tootin we “take a different view. ” Our hardwoods need to go into furniture and other great goods and not up your chimney. I live in West Virginia which has always been a poor state, first from the union control of the political system and then from Obama’s war on coal. We are emerging from both hazards. Not only is coal coming back and families working again, but the state is awash in gas. Pipelines are being built to move the gas to other states and even East Coast ports for shipping elsewhere.

      Companies are slowly beginning to locate here as we want to have manufacturing and not just ship our resources elsewhere. We don'[t need helpful wizards such as the inestimable Mr. Juniper telling us what to do.

      • December 19, 2017 2:38 pm

        Tony Juniper has always been an extreme member of the Greenblob – hence he is a regular go-to person for the BBC.

  3. Gerry, England permalink
    December 19, 2017 1:16 pm

    Strange that if you hand out taxpayer cash trees get felled, even those that shouldn’t.

    I looked at a wood pellet maker thinking it could be a good way to use up small branches once chipped but the process uses the resin in wood to bind the pellets together. This requires pressure and of course heat. Interest ended at that point. I am trying mixing the wood with paper and forming briquettes using the paper to bind the wood particles.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      December 19, 2017 3:47 pm

      I assume you have something like this.

    • HotScot permalink
      December 19, 2017 5:33 pm

      Gerry, England

      Of course, there’s the energy required to chip the twigs in the first place.

      I’m thinking of building a home for my retirement. A nice energy efficient i.e. well insulated, and therefore well ventilated structure. A conundrum in itself without resorting to expensive technology. However, I’m examining Rocket Mass Heaters (Google it) which burn not much more than twigs at very high temperatures, but emit little more than CO2 and H2O.

      No chipping or high tech required.

    • catweazle666 permalink
      December 20, 2017 10:42 pm

      “I am trying mixing the wood with paper and forming briquettes using the paper to bind the wood particles.”

      Be aware that there are fillers used in the paper that will form a flux when heated and slag down your grate!

  4. December 19, 2017 1:29 pm

    The insane politics of AGW has brought this about. A false market awash with subsidies has conned gullible politicians to banish plentiful, readily available gas and coal in favour of unreliable renewable sources. Who would have thought that burning trees creates more CO² than gas and coal?
    As I have previously said, it’s the money stupid – our money.

  5. spetzer86 permalink
    December 19, 2017 1:41 pm

    For some curious reason, Easter Island kept popping into my head as I read this article. Don’t know why.

  6. December 19, 2017 2:27 pm

    Greenpeace’s attacks on Resolute Forest Products in Canada relied on this same type of faulty logic. They wanted the forest left pristine wilderness, even though old trees draw down less CO2 from the atmosphere, and new tree growth mitigates CO2 more (assuming you are worried about that). Even the IPCC acknowledges that.

  7. December 19, 2017 2:30 pm

    Also, what is the underlying principle here if you are a fan of biomass?

    It’s great to burn today beautiful forests, but not burn (er, recycle) the leftovers of ancient forests (e.g. coal)?

    • HotScot permalink
      December 19, 2017 5:52 pm

      Coal = accidentally, naturally sequestered energy.

      The planet was threatened with extinction not too long ago when CO2 levels dropped to critical levels, around 180ppm I believe.

      Strangely, man happened along and, incredibly, discovered black rocks burn.

      At its height of production, it seems, coincidentally, that humankind managed to raise CO2 levels to a more acceptable level. The result?

      The planet greened by 14% in 30 years and saved the planet, remarkable.

      We’re I religious I would consider that divine intervention.

      But as I don’t believe that CO2 plays a significant part of global warming, and I’m not religious, I think it’s just the most extraordinary coincidence.

  8. George Let permalink
    December 19, 2017 2:36 pm

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so ridiculous and wasteful.

  9. December 19, 2017 3:16 pm

    We need to rethink our entire industrial strategy in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. For example, smelting metals, particularly iron, causes vast amounts of carbon dioxide to be released. Environmental scientists have just discovered a new, miracle material to replace iron – flint! Our universities and colleges should immediately start giving courses in flint knapping. All the environmental problems associated with manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles will disappear if we go back to horse-drawn vehicles, and let’s not forget the potential of wind turbines for grinding corn.

    Roger Graves
    Assistant Deputy Minister for Luddite Implementation

    • M E Emberson permalink
      December 19, 2017 7:51 pm

      Carts and other horse drawn vehicles need iron tires or felloes. The vehicles need to be built from timber felled by iron axes and constructed using iron or steel tools. Iron or steel must be forged by blacksmiths using high temperatures in the smithy. Flint won’t do. If we are back to flint knapping we can drag sleds but we can’t make wheels .However, loads can be carried by donkeys ,mules and pack horses ( though horseshoes are iron so another problem there.) and horse riding without stirrups not easy though it has been done.

  10. Patsy Lacey permalink
    December 19, 2017 3:25 pm

    This is what the farmers in North Carolina think about the sustainable Drax.

  11. December 19, 2017 5:23 pm

    Rachel Carson (Silent Spring) could yet be right. No trees, no birds.

  12. December 19, 2017 5:44 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  13. December 19, 2017 9:44 pm

    In other news….

    Solar Roadways

    The €5 million solar roadway in France is simply rubbish.

    Dave Jones of EEVBlog runs the numbers.

    33% of the output for 9 times the cost of an “ordinary” solar system…

    I wonder if Monsieur Macron and his token Green fool Monsieur Hulot will pay attention?

    • A C Osborn permalink
      December 20, 2017 4:21 pm

      China in a fit of stupidity have followed them and created a 2Km version, although later the Mail says this “The 1km (0.6-mile) stretch of road is paved with 2,880 photovoltaic panels, covering an area of 2,800 square metres (9,186 square feet).

      The road is expected to produce 280 MWh of electricity a year – enough to power the village’s street lights.”

      Of course that is when there are no clouds and no Cars actually travelling on thre road.
      The more cars the less sun due to shadows.

  14. December 19, 2017 11:39 pm

    An awful lot of fuel has gone up in smoke over the last months in northern Canada and California fires.

  15. Bitter&twisted permalink
    December 20, 2017 2:57 pm

    The green agenda just keeps on giving.
    Talk about a reverse Midas touch!

  16. BernardP permalink
    December 20, 2017 8:27 pm

    For a number of years, The UK has been buying compressed wood pellets made from trees logged in the Province of Québec and shipped through the Quebec City Harbor. It is a dirty little secret no one in Oh-So-Green-Québec is talking about.

  17. December 21, 2017 7:29 am

    Oh dear, Drax has discovered that wood pellets are flammable.

    “Drax said the biomass-fuelled units will be shut for “a short time” after a fire broke out where the highly flammable pellets are offloaded onto a conveyor belt from the train containers which deliver the biomass by rail.” “A fire is a relatively rare occurrence at biomass plants which spend hundreds of millions of pounds to carefully store and transport the pellets.”


  1. EU must not burn the world’s forests for ‘renewable’ energy – CO2 is Life

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