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Scientists warn replacing fossil fuels with wood is ‘false solution’ to climate crisis

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February 15, 2021

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Published:

February 15, 2021

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Over 500 scientists from around the world have sent a letter to leaders of the EU, US, Japan, and South Korea, urging them to stop treating wood biomass as carbon neutral and to drop policies that support the burning of trees for energy production.

Shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning wood biomass for energy is a “false solution” that undermines both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity, the scientists wrote in the letter, addressed to European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, United States President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The practice of cutting down whole trees or diverting large portions of stem wood for bioenergy in recent years has resulted in releasing carbon that would otherwise stay locked up in forests, the scientists warned.

“Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity. To meet future net zero emission goals, your governments should work to preserve and restore forests and not to burn them,” reads the letter.

The huge increase in logging for energy is driven by government subsidies

According to the signatories, the huge increase in logging for energy is driven almost exclusively by public subsidies in Europe, North America, and East Asia, and political leaders have it in their power to end these practices, reverse the trends, and protect wildlife and climate.

In the case of the EU specifically, the signatories believe the bloc should stop treating the burning of biomass as carbon neutral in its renewable energy standards and its emissions trading system.

As a result of government subsidies, businesses are replacing fossil fuels with wood, which increases global warming, instead of shifting to solar and wind energy, which would truly decrease warming, according to the letter.

As the EU is subsidizing the burning of wood with EUR 7 billion a year, wood pellet use soared from 17 million tons in 2013 to 26 million tons in 2018. “If nothing is done, there are worrying signs that this huge growth will accelerate, as European coal plants look to shift to wood burning,” wrote one of the signatories, Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a former vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Re-growing trees takes too long to compensate for the damage caused by deforestation

Even though re-growing trees and abandoning fossil fuels may eventually pay off the carbon debt created by deforestation, the scientists warn that “regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change.”

Moreover, the wood burned for energy emits more carbon up smokestacks than using fossil fuels, the signatories warned.

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