Europe Subsidizes Burning Old Trees That Release More Carbon Dioxide Than Released by Burning Coal

(p. A24) Across Central Europe, companies are clear-cutting forests and at times grinding up centuries-old trees in the name of renewable energy. All of this is legal.
In fact, it is encouraged by government subsidies meant to help the European Union reach its renewable energy goals.

In reality, though, burning wood can be even dirtier than burning coal.

New York Times journalists followed six truckloads to the factory on a recent day and watched as logs from one of the continent’s most important conservation areas were churned into sawdust.

Wood was never supposed to be the cornerstone of the European Union’s green energy strategy.

When the bloc began subsidizing wood burning over a decade ago, it was seen as a quick boost for renewable fuel and an incentive to move homes and power plants away from coal and gas. Chips and pellets were marketed as a way to turn sawdust waste (p. A10) into green power.

Those subsidies gave rise to a booming market, to the point that wood is now Europe’s largest renewable energy source, far ahead of wind and solar.

But today, as demand surges amid a Russian energy crunch, whole trees are being harvested for power. And evidence is mounting that Europe’s bet on wood to address climate change has not paid off.

. . .

And while European nations can count wood power toward their clean-energy targets, the E.U. scientific research agency said last year that burning wood released more carbon dioxide than would have been emitted had that energy come from fossil fuels.

“People buy wood pellets thinking they’re the sustainable choice, but in reality, they’re driving the destruction of Europe’s last wild forests,” said David Gehl of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington-based advocacy group that has studied wood use in Central Europe.

. . .

Scientists have calculated that, per unit of energy, burning wood actually releases more greenhouse gas emissions than burning gas, oil, or even coal.

. . .

(p. A11) The association opposes cutting subsidies or changing the way clean energy is defined. If the European Union no longer considers energy from burnt wood to be carbon-neutral, it would immediately throw many countries off track to hit renewable-energy targets.

That would have major consequences for countries like Italy, the continent’s largest consumer of wood pellets. More than a third of its renewable energy comes from burning plant material. For years, the Italian government has offered tax deductions to encourage buying pellet stoves.

For the full story see:

Sarah Hurtes and Weiyi Cai. “Sacrificing Centuries-Old Trees In Name of Renewable Energy.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 10, 2022): A1 & A10-A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 7, 2022, and has the title “Europe Is Sacrificing Its Ancient Forests for Energy.” Where the wording and content of the versions differs, the passages quoted above follow the print version.)

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