If we are to prevent dangerous climate change then we need move to 100% renewable energy as soon as possible.
Why it matters
The costs of renewables like wind and solar have fallen dramatically. And they bring huge benefits in terms of jobs, health and energy security.
But renewables still face unfair competition from fossil fuels, often burnt in plants that have long since been paid off and that don’t pay the real price of the carbon pollution
The EU has set a 32% target for renewable energy by 2030, but this is not enough.
What WWF is doing
The EU has shown leadership on renewable energy in the past but is now falling behind the US and China. To turn this around and keep our climate goals within reach we need several things to be in place:
What is the issue with EU bioenergy policy?
- We need ambitious, binding EU targets for renewable energy: the agreed EU target of 32% energy by 2030 should be raised to at least 45%, and the EU should aim for zero net emissions by 2040;
- We need an electricity market designed with variable renewables in mind. The Commission’s proposals go some way to achieving this, but don’t address the main problem: the existence on the EU grid of large numbers of old, inflexible, coal-fired plants.
- We need much stricter criteria on bioenergy, to ensure that biofuels and biomass offer genuine carbon savings over fossil fuels.
Bioenergy has a role to play in the decarbonisation of the EU energy system. But some types of bioenergy can actually increase emissions substantially
. Biofuels from purpose-grown crops, for example, are unlikely to be lower carbon than fossil fuels.
What’s more, scientists agree that burning tree trunks/stumps will increase emissions for decades compared to fossil fuels – one reason for this is how long it takes for forests to grow back.
Currently, EU law means all forms of bioenergy are incentivised. This has brought about a vast expansion in bioenergy, leading to increased emissions
, deforestation and food price rises.
The EU recently agreed new bioenergy rules as part of its revised Renewables Energy Directive. Unfortunately these will allow ever more trees and crops to be burnt for energy, increasing greenhouse gas emissions even more than fossil fuels would do.
We need much stricter rules to ensure that bioenergy used in the EU delivers genuine climate benefits and that companies instead invest in low carbon renewables such as wind and solar
WWF believes that the EU should have greenhouse gas criteria based on a full lifecycle assessment including all relevant factors, and based on a climate-relevant timeline. But that in the absence of that the EU should:
- Phase out subsidies and incentives for purpose-grown biofuel crops such as cereals or oilseeds, which are unlikely to be a good use of land from a climate perspective compared to growing food or letting land return to forest. For pragmatic reasons WWF accepts that this could be done gradually, for example in line with the Commission’s proposal of an initial reduction in the cap on food-based biofuels from 7.0% to 3.8%.
- Phase out subsidies and incentives for the use of stemwoodand stumps, the use of which for energy will generally increase emissions compared to fossil fuels for decades. Fast decaying harvest residues such as tops and branches should remain eligible for incentives, but only if used in installations employing high efficiency cogeneration (i.e. combined heat and power).
- Ensure that fast decaying wastes and residues only benefit from subsidies or incentives if they have no significant alternative uses, whether for food, animal feed or bio-based materials (the ‘cascading use’ principle).
The EU should also set strict efficiency requirements
– and apply these and the other sustainability criteria to all biomass plant over 1MW in size.