Researchers have slammed a new renewable energy directive proposed by the European Union that promotes the use of wood as a "renewable fuel".
Against the advice of 800 scientists, the Renewable Energy Directive could greatly increase Europe's greenhouse gas emissions and cause deforestation across the world, according to a new paper published in Nature Communications.
In the directive, wood is referred to as a low-carbon fuel, meaning that whole trees or large portions of trees can be cut down deliberately to burn for electricity. Such uses go beyond paper-making wastes and other wood wastes often, which have long been used to generate bioenergy, but not to this magnitude.
If the world were to supply only an additional two per cent of its energy from wood, it would need to double commercial wood harvests around the world
The new study, co-authored by eight scientists from the US and Europe, estimates that this bioenergy provision in the directive will lead to the vast new cutting of the world's forests. This is because additional wood equal to all of Europe's existing wood harvests will be needed just to supply five per cent of Europe's energy.
The paper also estimates that using wood for energy will likely result in 10 to 15 per cent increase in emissions from Europe's energy use by 2050. This could occur by turning a five per cent decrease in emissions required under the directive using solar energy or wind energy into a five-to-10 increase by using wood.
Europe's increased wood demand will also require additional cutting in forests around the world, which is likely to have a compounding effect by encouraging other countries to do the same, warns the paper.
The policy undermines years of efforts to save trees by recycling used paper instead of burning it for energy
"Globally, if the world were to supply only an additional two per cent of its energy from wood, it would need to double commercial wood harvests around the world with harsh effects on forests," said study lead author Tim Searchinger, researcher scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
The researchers' report also explains why the European directive's sustainability conditions would have little effect.
Even if trees are cut down "sustainably", that does not make the wood carbon-free or low carbon because of the added carbon in the atmosphere, for long periods of time, that burning it would cause.
The paper also highlights how the policy undermines years of efforts to save trees by recycling used paper instead of burning it for energy.
"As the prices companies are required to pay for emitting carbon dioxide increase over time, the incorrect accounting of forest biomass Europe has adopted will make it more profitable to cut down trees to burn," the report says.
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