The growing demand for bioenergy will exert “unparalleled and unsustainable” new pressures on the world’s land and forests, according to campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) Europe. However, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) has refuted these claims, saying bioenergy done in the right way is vital for mitigating climate impacts.
Bioenergy is renewable energy derived from biological sources, such as wood and by-products of the agricultural process. In the UK, bioenergy is estimated to have the potential to provide around 30% of renewable energy by 2020.
The FoE report, which used analysis from Vienna University of Economic and Business, argues that Europe’s consumption of crops and wood for transport fuel, heating and electricity is set to double by 2030. As a result, the organisation claims Europe would require an area of land and forest three times the size of the UK to meet demand.
Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner at FoE Europe, commented, “Europe’s consumption of land has been out of control for too long. The increasing use of crops and wood as a fuel is set to double in the next 15 years – threatening forests, rural communities and food production the world over.
“Europe’s hunger for land and natural resources is unsustainable. Not only do we need to cap the use of biofuels for cars, but we need to cut the vast amount of land used by the EU by setting enforceable targets that reduce our over-consumption.”
The report calls on the EU and governments, which are currently seeking an agreement to limit biofuels, to take action by ending the use of crop based biofuels and the burning of trees. The organisation also urges them to ensure that only sustainable bioenergy is supported in greenhouse gas reduction policies for 2030.
REA, a trade association for UK renewables, has refuted the claims that bioenergy will damage forests and the wider environment.
Paul Thompson, head of policy at REA, commented, “Nobody in renewables is burning land! This is the latest in a catalogue of misleading sound bites in the bioenergy debate. The frustrating thing is that we’re ultimately on the same side as the NGOs.
“Some of FOE’s recommendations are very sensible, especially on the 2030 framework and the need for EU-wide bioenergy sustainability criteria. But others are based on unsound theory.”
He continued that some of the conclusions drawn in the report – such as those around carbon debt, product substitution emissions and the impact of biofuels on food prices – are based on theories that often take extreme and unlikely scenarios in order to reach “alarming and misleading” results.
Thompson added, “We all agree that bioenergy done badly, without regulation, can damage the environment. But bioenergy done well is absolutely vital for all the credible and cost-effective Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) mitigation scenarios.
“What we need is a debate focused on solutions rather than scaremongering; sensible regulations to prevent bad bioenergy and effective support schemes to promote good bioenergy.”
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