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EU scientists urge policymakers to review ETS accounting rules for biomass

EU lawmakers should introduce a new requirement that net carbon emissions from ‘biomass power stations be properly accounted for’ and declared under the Emissions Trading System (ETS), according to the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC).

EASAC has made this call now because the European Commission is in the process of reforming the rules on monitoring and reporting for the ETS the period 2021-2030. The EU’s ETS caps the amount of certain greenhouse gases that companies can emit.

For it to be effective, greenhouse gas emissions must be monitored, reported and verified in a transparent, consistent and accurate manner.

The current EU ETS only accounts for smokestack emissions and rates the carbon emissions of biomass burning at zero. However, EASAC (@EASACnews) said in a statement that it “should not be possible to just assume that millions of tons of carbon coming out of a power station stack are ‘zero’”.

It added: “The ETS should be reformed to link accounting to the real effects on CO2 levels in the atmosphere. This will require calculating the ‘carbon payback period’ for each biomass facility and its supply chain. Regulators need to know how long it will take until the initial perverse effects of biomass on climate are overcome and net reductions in atmospheric CO2 concentrations achieved.”

“Labelling forest biomass as renewable has a perverse impact on the climate. Much of the biomass employed in Europe is anything but carbon neutral. Current accounting rules under the emission trading scheme let certain power plants and countries shine as climate pioneers although they actually damage the climate,” said Professor Michael Norton, Environment Programme Director at EASAC.

He maintained that “much more would be achieved in tackling climate change if the huge subsidies currently given to biomass could be diverted to technologies that really helped the climate”. However, he did not stress what these technologies could be.

Commenting on EASAC’s statement, Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch told Bio Market Insights: “Kudos to the scientists at EASAC for sounding the alarm about the climate hypocrisy of labelling forest biomass as renewable energy and letting biomass-burning power plants off the hook for their climate pollution.

“The same false logic that’s led the EU to exempt biomass emissions under its Emission Trading Scheme, also underlies billions in direct subsidies to companies that burn trees for electricity on a massive scale in countries like the UK, which try to position themselves as climate leaders. These subsidies are paid out under programmes meant to support renewable energy, but just like fossil fuels, burning biomass increases carbon pollution.

“Given the climate emergency we’re in, it’s critical that the UK ends subsidies for biomass-burning power plants immediately and ensures they pay for their CO2 emissions, just like those that burn fossil fuels. Doing so would free up billions that could be invested immediately in real climate solutions like solar and wind.”

In response to the EASAC’s comments, Giulia Cancian, policy director from trade body Bioenergy Europe (@bioenergyEU), told Bio Market Insights: “The draft regulation on the updated EU ETS rules on monitoring and reporting (2021-30) now requires that biomass, complies with the Renewable Energy Directive Sustainability criteria, to be considered carbon neutral. This is a critical point to ensure that biomass comes from sustainable managed forests, that it does not lead to a decrease to the forest carbon stock, and it doesn’t damage biodiversity or soil and water quality.

“The European Commission, in its recent biodiversity strategy, has recognised that sustainable bioenergy is a win-win solution for energy generation and a key tool to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050. EU member states, as shown in their national energy and climate plans, rely on efficient and sustainable bioenergy to decarbonise their energy mix.

“These policy decisions are backed by scientific evidence: all IPCC scenarios reaching climate-neutrality by 2050 include sustainable biomass. The latter is recognised by United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the international science community as a renewable fuel, key to decisively cut greenhouse gas emissions and reach global climate targets.”

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Read: Forest-based biomass industry: Where are we today and where are going tomorrow?

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Read: 5 Minutes With…. Emily Glenn of Arbiom.

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