Bioenergy mars EU Commission’s attempts at a science-based Taxonomy

Posted on 20 November 2020

Excluding fossil fuels is a commendable step
Today the EU Commission published draft rules to govern which economic sectors are considered sustainable in climate terms under an EU ‘Taxonomy’. The Commission took a commendable step away from fossil fuels by excluding them from the Taxonomy. It also rightly clarified whether the activities included are already zero-carbon or considered ‘transitional’ - meaning they still need to gradually lower their emissions - with criteria for being ‘transitional’ tightening over time.

Despite this progress, the Commission’s proposal would allow the burning of trees to be considered ‘sustainable’, even though it produces more greenhouse gas emissions than coal. It would also include new hydropower plants in the Taxonomy, despite the damage they do to biodiversity and the negligible contribution they would make to tackling climate change.

The Commission’s independent ‘Technical Expert Group’, which provided detailed scientific criteria as the basis for the rules, had advised against the inclusion of fossil fuels, small hydropower and the burning of trees for energy. Probably due to pressure from conservative lobbies, the Commission has nonetheless proposed that the last two be considered a green investment. 

Sébastien Godinot, WWF European Policy Office Economist said:
“By excluding fossil fuels, the Commission has shown it has listened to the climate science. But the proposed criteria for bioenergy undermine this scientific approach, and with it the Taxonomy’s credibility. Fortunately the public consultation is the opportunity for the Commission to align with the recommendations of the Technical Expert Group as a minimum, and improve them where needed, for example on hydropower : we call on the Commission to finish the job it has started. ”

Alex Mason, WWF European Policy Office Senior Policy Officer said:
“The science tells us that burning trees for energy increases emissions for decades or even centuries compared to coal. Yet today the Commission has ignored the Technial Expert Group’s advice and endorsed it as a green investment. This is a massive mistake and will lead to stranded assets when the Commission is forced to do a U-turn - as they surely will be.”

Other critical areas for WWF in the Taxonomy’s climate rules include biofuel use in transport, forestry, hydropower and agriculture. WWF will be analysing the whole proposal in the coming days to issue concrete recommendations.
The proposed rules - known as a ‘Delegated Act’ - now go for public consultation until around mid-December. The European Commission will then have until 31 December to adopt the Delegated Act. It will then be over to the EU Parliament and Council which will have two months to accept or reject it. 
Sébastien Godinot
Economist, WWF European Policy Office
+32 489 46 13 14

Alex Mason (on bioenergy) 
Senior Policy Officer, WWF European Policy Office
+32 494 762 763 

Sarah Azau
Media Manager, WWF European Policy Office
+32 473 57 31 37
Burning trees for energy produces more polluting gases than coal
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