Current EU bioenergy policy will allow ever more trees and crops to be burnt for energy.
This will harm nature and increase greenhouse gas emissions even more than fossil fuels would do.
We need much stricter rules to ensure that the bioenergy used in the EU delivers genuine climate benefits.
Why it matters
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 or 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.
Now, the EU is preparing an updated Renewable Energy Directive. We need it to include much stricter rules on bioenergy, to ensure it delivers genuine climate benefits.
What WWF is doing
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 stemwood and 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 plants over 1 MW in size.