EU sued over biomass climate impacts

18 March 2019

A group of environmental organisations are claiming that the use of biomass in energy generation is undermining efforts to slow climate change.

The groups – from the USA and five European countries – have filed a lawsuit in the European General Court in Luxembourg requesting that EU countries should be prevented from counting forest wood as a renewable energy source.

The plaintiffs allege that the use of biomass is harming their health and livelihoods, based on research that shows that burning wood creates more pollution than burning coal, largely because they result in the degradation of forest carbon sinks.

Carbon emissions from wood-fired power plants are not counted under the 2018 revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), making it appear as if they have zero emissions. A number of coal-fired power plants around Europe have converted their facilities to biomass burning, enabling them to receive renewable energy subsidies and avoid taxes on carbon pollution.

“The EU’s policy relies on the false and reckless assumption that burning forest wood is carbon neutral,” said Dr. Mary S. Booth, director of the US-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) and lead science advisor on the case. “However, scientists from around the world, including the EU’s own science advisors, warned that burning forest wood actually increases emissions relative to fossil fuels.”

The plaintiffs say that EU policy on the treatment of biomass in renewable energy policy is leading to increased wood logging in Eastern Europe and the USA. In addition to harming health, they maintain that the policy is violating their rights under the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights.

If the court agrees to hear the potentially precedent-setting case, it will be the first time a non-governmental organization has been granted standing to challenge an EU law or regulation.

“If that happens, that itself would be very groundbreaking. It would dramatically increase access to climate justice in the European court,” Booth said.

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