• Why Is Europe's Green Energy Plan a Failure?

Environmental Laboratory

Why Is Europe's Green Energy Plan a Failure?

Dec 15 2016

Environmental groups have come out in force against the EU’s green energy plan, published on the 30th of November, claiming that it fails to address fundamental problems with its current energy policy.

The chief criticisms of the plan concentrate on the use of biomass in its renewable energy programme, claiming that the EU does not do enough to ensure that the fuels being used are sourced sustainably or responsibly. Furthermore, environmentalists also claim that in certain instances, these biofuels actually release more carbon than fossil fuels.

Irresponsible use of biomass

At present, around 65% of all of the renewables used by the EU are garnered from biomass. Primarily, this takes the form of burning wood and using other waste materials as fuel feedstock. Such an approach is commendable – provided that the materials involved are in fact waste in the first place.

However, it appears the EU has failed in guaranteeing that biomass sources are used sustainably, with whole trees being incinerated and substantial forests being decimated in the search for “cleaner” energy.

In fact, a recent study published by environmental group Birdlife found that the EU is actually subsidising projects across Europe responsible for widespread deforestation. For example, forests in Slovakia and Italy which are supposedly protected areas are being chopped down for use as biofuel in an unsustainable manner.

Worse than coal

Even more concerningly, it appears that not only is too much wood being burnt, but that it’s actually releasing more carbon into the air than coal combustion. Monitoring greenhouse gases (GhGs) from biofuel crops is a vital component of ensuring that biomass is a viable alternative to fossil fuels, but its own admission, the EU has conceded that burning a large amount of wood in a short space of time can actually be worse for the environment than coal.

“Biogenic emissions remain high (higher than emissions from fossil fuels) beyond a policy-relevant timeframe for sawn wood, stumps, coarse dead wood,” says the report on page 106. The timeframes set out at COP21 in Paris last December do not allow for the amount of wood currently being burnt in the EU.

Even though the EU acknowledges that this form of biomass energy generation can produce more carbon than coal combustion, it still counts them as carbon-neutral. “Emissions from the fuel in use shall be taken to be zero for biofuels and bioliquids,” states a 2009 directive. The New Scientist called this approach “the great carbon scam” in a recent article.  

“Worse than doing nothing”

The latest plans by the EU fail to address these discrepancies and risk wreaking untold havoc on the environment, according to several different climate change groups concerned about their actions.

“It’s almost worse than doing nothing,” said Sini Erajaa, bioenergy policy officer for Birdlife, who has branded the EU’s approach as little more than “greenwashing”. “We are not saying bioenergy has no role to play. But it will have to be smaller.”

However, with many governments and big businesses heavily invested in the profits which the biomass industry produces, it may be difficult to sway them in favour of giving the issues more serious credence. With the plan set to undergo review by the European Parliament, Birdlife and other groups are doing their level best to pressure on MEPs to take action while they still can.

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