The European Union declared this week that it could make deeper greenhouse gas cuts than it has already pledged under the Paris climate agreement. But its scientific advisors warn that the EU’s new renewable energy policy could undermine that goal because it fails to fully account for the climate impacts of burning wood for fuel.
By counting forest biomass, such as wood pellets used in power plants, as carbon-neutral, the new rules could make it impossible for Europe to achieve its climate goals, the European Academy of Sciences Advisory Council (EASAC) wrote in a strongly worded statement.
The council said the renewable energy policy‘s treatment of biomass is “simplistic and misleading” and could actually add to Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 to 30 years.
That bump in emissions would come just as the planet’s carbon emissions budget is running out, said William Gillett, EASAC’s energy director. The Paris agreement aims to reduce net emissions from energy systems to zero within the next several decades.
“The Paris agreement put the time dimension into stark focus,” Gillett said. “We don’t have 200 years to get to carbon balance. We only have 10 to 20 years. Our carbon budget is nearly used up, and burning trees uses up the budget even faster,” he said.
The Math Doesn’t Add Up
The countries in the Paris treaty have been encouraged to adopt new, more ambitious goals in the next few years to further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.
So, European nations, among the treaty’s strongest backers, have engaged in prolonged negotiations toward deeper emissions cuts. Over the past two weeks, they agreed to increase renewable energy to 32 percent of the power mix and set a goal of 32 percent energy efficiency savings.
The EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, told a meeting of environment leaders from Europe, Canada and China on Wednesday that the new policies would mean the European Union could increase its emissions reduction target from 40 percent to just over 45 percent by 2030.