Scientists urge protection of forests from bioenergy use

Published 09:39 on December 5, 2022  /  Last updated at 09:46 on December 5, 2022  / Roy Manuell /  Biodiversity

Over 650 scientists have signed a letter urging world leaders to stop using forests for bioenergy ahead of the upcoming UN COP15 summit on biodiversity in Montreal.

Over 650 scientists have signed a letter urging world leaders to stop using forests for bioenergy, ahead of the upcoming UN COP15 summit on biodiversity in Montreal.

The letter, published by the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), was written by prominent climate and biodiversity scientists from universities and organisations based in the top biomass-sourcing countries such as the US, Estonia, Canada, and the UK, which is the world’s highest importer of wood pellets for biomass energy generation.

The scientists warn that burning wood from forests for energy harms biodiversity and worsens climate change, thereby undermining the ability of countries to meet nature commitments, including those may be decided at the COP15 summit that runs from Dec. 7-19.

Governments are in Montreal to discuss a potential new global deal to protect at least 30% of land, inland waters, and oceans by 2030 – dubbed ’30 by 30′.

However, the scientists in the letter warned that burning trees for energy – or biomass electricity generation –threatens to undermine these efforts to avoid global species collapse.

The form of production is recognised by many jurisdictions as ‘green energy’ and is either excluded from emissions trading systems and carbon taxes, or receives exemptions.

According to the IEA, by 2030 bioenergy will make up around one third of global so-called low-carbon energy sources, meaning demand is only set to grow.

“We must transition our energy system, but it cannot be at the cost of nature. Ensuring energy security is a major societal challenge, but the answer is not to burn our precious forests – calling this ‘green energy’ is misleading and risks accelerating the global biodiversity crisis,” said Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at London’s botantical Kew Gardens, and a lead author of the letter.

The signatory scientists urge countries to stop relying on biomass given that it destroys forests, endangers wildlife, and overall accelerates climate change, they argue.

“Our forests are the most biodiverse places on the planet, providing habitat for countless species. They are also absorbing nearly 30% of all global emissions from burning fossil fuels – far more than any proposed technology – and if managed differently, could store twice their current amounts,” said William Moomaw of Tufts University and a lead author of the letter.

According to the European Academies Scientific Advisory Council (EASAC) many forms of forest bioenergy tend to increase emissions for decades, creating a carbon debt that can last for centuries. Now they are finding that bioenergy also has dire risks for nature and wildlife.

Bioenergy is causing the clearcutting of some never-been-touched forests in Canada, protected nature reserves in Estonia, and an internationally-designated biodiversity hotspot in the US, according to the signatories of the letter.

Forests are home to more than 80% of terrestrial biodiversity and sequester one-third of the earth’s anthropogenic emissions.

“One of the biggest impacts of forest management is the erosion of dead wood habitat, placing hundreds of species at risk. Use of biomass as fuel from forests not only leads to net carbon emissions for decades or longer, but also removes these important dead wood habitats. This destructive practice needs to be abandoned immediately,” said Jay Malcolm of the University of Toronto, and a lead author of the letter.

The world needs to flow far more finance into biodiversity in any case, with the current level at just one-third of the required total needed to align with the 1.5C temperature warming limit of the Paris Agreement and wider Sustainable Development Goals, according to a UN report published last week, with financing needing to double in just three years to avoid such goals falling out of reach.

By Roy Manuell –

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