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European Commission defends importance of bioenergy in achieving EU 2020 targets

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Publish date: June 30, 2010

Two reports were presented during a hearing at the European Parliament on June 29th. The first addresses bioenergy and sustainability, whilst the second addresses the controversial topic of indirect land use change (ILUC) in connection with biomass feedstock production. The methodology and conclusions of both were questioned by many members of the audience.

The bioenergy and sustainability report – entitled ”The upfront carbon debt of bioenergy” –  is written by researchers from the Joanneum research center in Austria. It addresses the issue of time delays in carbon sequestration from replanted biomass for energy purposes. The report on ILUC is more specific to biofuels, entitled, “Biofuels: indirect land use change and climate impact”. It is published by CE Delft, an independent research and consultancy organization.  

The reports conclude that most of the biomass produced today will be worse than fossil fuels in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions production.

Bellona is, however, not the only organization questioning these findings. The authors received a number of critical comments during the hearing.

”These studies are pointing at important challenges which needs to be solved, but they seem to focus more on finding problems rather than finding solutions,” says Tone Knudsen from Bellona.

”In the long term, biomass needs to be part of the solution to the climate challenge. This is especially true since several uses of fossil fuels today can only be replaced with biomass. Therefore, what we need to focus on is how to produce biomass feedstock sustainably. Without it, the climate challenge is unsolvable. This study did not look at all types of biomass feedstock production, for example new biomass sources such as growing macro or micro algae, and it did not look into biomass as a key to technological solutions which absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits, so-called carbon negative solutions, for example through combining production of biomass with CO2 capture and storage (CCS). These are both factors that would influence the conclusions.”, Knudsen concluded.

Representatives from the European Commission present at the hearing also emphasized the weaknesses of the study. Paul Hodson from the Energy department at the Commission argued strongly that without the use of biomass, the EU’s goal to achieve 20% of energy production through renewables by 2020  cannot be achieved.

“If you are to give the policy message that Europe should change around all it has achieved in this field so far, you better get your numbers right” said Hodson.

”If we are to change the whole direction of the European policy on renewable energy, it cannot be done on the basis of two reports with no real assessment or quality control,” Hodson  continued.

Hodson underlined several weaknesses which he believed could be found in the presented work. These included the fact that it does not look at consequences of producing biomass on wetlands or peatlands; that possible future technological responses are not included; that the studies assume that today’s sustainability criteria has no impact; and finally that the studies use average fossil fuel production as a baseline rather than marginal fossil fuels production.

By the end of this year, the Commission will deliver a report on ILUC effects. A representative of the Belgian presidency of the European Council – which is due to begin in only two days – said that they would work towards further strengthening the priority of increased renewable energy share in the EU. He explained that although biomass is a controversial source of energy, it is still the key to achieving the EU’s GHG emission reduction goals.

The Belgian presidency will be hosting a conference on how to best use biomass on November 26th this year.

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