“What do olives stones shipped from the Mediterranean to Sweden and a wooden bed have in common? They can both count as part of EU efforts to limit the amount of carbon leaking into the atmosphere and, as such, they are hotly contested.”
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Increasingly, the 27-member bloc, which has sought to lead the fight against global warming, is relying on biomass – covering anything from olive waste to old blackcurrant bushes to trees – to generate heat and power.
For the purposes of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, biomass used as fuel is counted as carbon-neutral. The underlying assumption is its emissions are offset by the planting of a new tree. Felled wood, until burnt, is a carbon store.
The reality is much more complicated, say environmentalists, who are concerned creative accounting is belying the true state of the world’s forests, while EU climate goals slip from grasp.
“You’re assuming the whole world has started reducing emissions from its own use and is improving its land management and that’s a total fantasy,” Pieter de Pous, policy director at the European Environmental Bureau, said.
Demand for biomass, most commonly in the form of wood pellets that can easily be transported, has leapt since the EU in 2007 set its 2020 climate goals, which include cutting carbon emissions by 20 percent and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20 percent.
National renewable energy action plans drawn up by EU states show around 50 percent of green fuel will come from biomass.
Officially, the EU is meeting its carbon cutting and renewable goals. The first danger is that shipping wood pellets and then burning them adds to, rather than lowers emissions.