Open letter from scientists to world leaders: Stop using bioenergy from forests to generate electricity

“The best thing for the climate and biodiversity is to leave forests standing—and biomass energy does the opposite.”

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Image Credit: Steinar Johansen, flickr

In an open letter to world leaders, more than 650 scientists are urging them to stop the use of bioenergy from forests to generate electricity and heat. According to an International Energy Agency report, the burning of trees to produce energy makes up a third of what has been deemed “low-carbon” energy by 2030, The Guardian reported.

But the scientists said bioenergy from forests “destroys wildlife habitats and undermines international biodiversity and climate pledges,” EcoWatch reported.

“The best thing for the climate and biodiversity is to leave forests standing—and biomass energy does the opposite,” the letter stated.

Trees cut down to produce bioenergy release carbon into the atmosphere that would have been otherwise stored in the forests, EcoWatch reported. This is releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than gas or coal, The Guardian reported.

“In addition to its impacts on wildlife, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently noted the critical role that forests play in keeping their stored carbon out of the atmosphere,” the letter stated. “Harvesting for bioenergy seriously harms forests and their ability to sequester and store carbon.”

The burning of forests for bioenergy also puts a million species at risk by 2100 because of the loss of their habitat, such as “protected forest ecosystems in the Baltics that are critical habitats for imperilled birds and mammals; and primary forests in Canada, including the boreal forest, one of the world’s last remaining intact forests and a stronghold for global bird populations,” the letter stated.

“Rare species such as the prothonotary warbler, the boreal woodland caribou, and the black stork, are already declining due to the loss and degradation of these forests,” the letter stated.

Addressed to President Xi Jinping of China, U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of South Korea Yoon Suk-yeol and Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida, the scientists are urging countries to “end all reliance on forest bioenergy and, over time, to replace it entirely with alternative renewable energy sources like wind and solar.”

“Troublingly, because it has wrongly been deemed ‘carbon neutral,’ many countries are increasingly relying on forest biomass to meet net zero goals. This is harming our world’s forests when we need them most. Many of the wood pellets burned at power stations for bioenergy are coming from whole trees—not wastes and residues from logging, as the industry claims,” the letter stated.

The wood used for bioenergy comes mainly from the U.S., Canada and Estonia.

“We must transition our energy system, but it cannot be at the cost of nature. Ensuring energy security is a major societal challenge, but the answer is not to burn our precious forests—calling this ‘green energy’ is misleading and risks accelerating the global biodiversity crisis,” Professor Alexandre Antonelli, director of Science at Kew Gardens and a lead author of the letter, said.

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