Climate scientists say that the world’s carbon sinks could be threatened by the EU Renewable Energy Directive’s inclusion of energy created from the burning of whole trees as “carbon neutral”.
The climate legislation could produce as much imported wood as European harvests each year, according to the report in the journal Nature Communications.
The team of academics included a former vice-chair of the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, now a climate scientist at Université Catholique de Louvain.
He said the risk of the rules encouraging tree clearances and the destruction of global carbon sinks was now “extremely high”.
“This amounts to sawing off the branch on which humanity sits,” the professor said.
The use of wood to fuel power plants could cause the bloc’s energy emissions to rise by 10 per cent or more by 2050, cancelling out what was achieved with solar or wind power, the study said.
Indonesia and Brazil were among 27 countries which pledged “to increase the use of wood … to generate energy as part of efforts to counter climate change” at the 2017 summit on climate control in Bonn.
“The directive in its present form will create a large demand for wood that will contribute to destroying those forests,” van Ypersele told the Guardian. “It is a catastrophe in the making.”
The policy would undo years of attempts to save trees by recycling paper, the study said.
Brussels argues that carbon neutrality can be achieved by planting trees that grow to consume the carbon released by the wood burning.
Stanford University’s Eric Lambin, a co-author of the study, said: “Treating wood as a carbon-neutral fuel is a simple policy decision with complex cascading effects on forest use, energy systems, wood trade and biodiversity worldwide. Clearly, many of these effects have not received due attention.”
But by 2050, replacing fossil fuels with wood was estimated to risk tripling carbon in the atmosphere per gigajoule of final energy, the paper argued.
An EU source said the report was accurate, potentially underestimating the scale of the problem.
The regulations “really will [start] a race to the bottom because there is no inherent limit to the potential over-harvesting,” the source was quoted saying.
“There is a high risk that it will involve the possibility of increasing emissions with no possibility of any greenhouse-gas savings at all.”
The magnitude of the problem was not understood in Brussels, the source alleged. “Partly that is because of wishful thinking, Partly it is so fundamentally wrong that most people would not believe it could be as wrong as it is.”
Global forests might be endangered by the EU’s definition of carbon neutral. Picture credit: Pixabay