The Canadian chapter of Greenpeace yesterday released a report that highlights the dangers of the large-scale use of wood and tree harvesting for heating, electricity generation or liquid biofuels. The report is called ‘Fuelling a Biomess’ and it argues that burning woody biomass on an industrial scale could severely harm Canada’s public forests and further contribute to the global climate crisis.
The report is based on recent peer-reviewed scientific literature, and challenges the claims that simply burning forest biomass is green, clean and carbon-neutral. It’s on such claims that current bioenergy boom is based, it says. As demand for biomass grows, it can no longer be met by traditional waste stream sources, such as the bark, sawdust and other residues from pulp and paper plants or sawmills.
“Forest bioenergy, as it is currently being developed in Canada, threatens the health of our forests and will harm the global climate for decades to come,” said Nicolas Mainville, Greenpeace Canada forest campaigner. “The amount of wood being burnt in power plants or turned into liquid fuels is growing exponentially without the public’s knowledge and little government oversight or regulation.”
Greenpeace said that in some jurisdictions forest biomass is increasingly consisting of elements essential to functioning forest ecosystems, including standing trees, naturally disturbed forests and remains of traditional logging operations that were previously left in the forest. The amount of wood and other tree parts cut from Canadian public forests could more than double under new policies that support the expansion of forest bioenergy production.
The organization added it is concerned that the growing demand for trees associated with the bioenergy boom will drastically increase pressure on forests and out compete the traditional forest products sector, particularly with respect to available wood supply and the development of new products and jobs.
“Using woody biomass to produce energy should be restricted to local, small-scale uses of mill residues” said Mainville. “Before we continue to approve new projects, public hearings, a full accounting of the climate and biodiversity footprint and life-cycle analyses of those projects are needed.”
In 2010, Canada exported 1.2 million tonnes of wood pellets to Europe, resulting in a 700 per cent increase in less than eight years. Canada alone releases approximately 40 megatons of CO2 emissions annually from forest bioenergy production, an amount that exceeds the tailpipe emissions of all 2009 Canadian light-duty passenger vehicles.
The release of the report was timed with the opening of the first European Biomass Exchange in Amsterdam.
Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.