EU biomass rules 'fail to account' for GHG emissions
London, 23 February (Argus) — New EU rules fail to account for emissions for biomass combustion properly and risk creating perverse incentives to burn the fuel, according to a report from UK-based policy institute Chatham House.
Under European Commission proposals biomass emissions will continue to be zero-rated at the point of combustion after 2021 and therefore are not included either in UK carbon budgets or the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS).
The commission has sought to justify this by accounting for biomass emissions within the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector, assuming that as long as enough trees are planted to replace those that are used to make the fuel feedstock, biomass combustion can be accounted for as being carbon neutral.
But there are a number of problems with this approach, according to the Chatham House report entitled: "Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate."
The biggest is the lack of proper accounting rules and forest management practices in the regions producing the most biomass.
The US, Canada, and Russia, all significant exporters of woody biomass, do not adequately account for emissions in the LULUCF sector as they are not parties to the Kyoto Protocol, raising the prospect that not enough trees are being planted to replaced felled ones, or that they are being planted over too long a time period.
"Forest-management reference level submissions do not contain sufficient information on the quantity of woody biomass projected to be used, the origins of that biomass, and the resulting emissions," said the report.
There are also problems with the assumptions used to calculate the rate trees absorb carbon as they grow, and with the fact that felled trees might be used for purposes other than combustion, and still be replaced.
Sustainability criteria developed by the industry in an effort to address these issues fail to do so, the report continues, as they do not account "comprehensively or at all" for changes in forest stock.
A life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions analysis of each type of biomass feedstock would be the best way to improve sustainability criteria, the report recommends, or failing that the restriction of eligibility to types of feedstock most likely to reduce net carbon emissions.
The current regime encourages EU member states to burn biomass to reach EU-mandated renewables targets while doing little to actually reduce global GHG emissions, the report concludes.
UK renewable industry body the Renewable Energy Agency said that biomass burnt in UK power plants comes from US forests where stocks are not shrinking, citing figures from the US Forest Service that says the forest estate now stands at 751mn acres, the same level as in 2010.
"It is sad to see the Chatham House report ignore the significant body of peer-reviewed academic studies that verifies the contributions from biomass power in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and in supporting forest growth," said the REA.