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WBA disagrees with the Chatham House report, calls for reconsideration

The World Bioenergy Association (WBA) joins a growing number of organisations, academics, and experts in criticising the recently published Chatham House Report “Woody biomass for power and heat: Impacts on the Global Climate” and calls for a reconsideration of its findings.

Bioenergy policy should be woven with consideration of sustainability so to avoid increased pressure on natural resources - including land, water and biodiversity.

The recent Chatham House report, says WBA, attempts to unsuccessfully simplify the complex system of energy generation from biomass and  “conveniently” overlaps forest biomass with all bioenergy.

The World Bioenergy Association (WBA) “strongly” opposes the recently published Chatham House Report: “Woody biomass for power and heat: Impacts on the Global Climate”. In a statement, WBA highlights that there are a number of conclusions and recommendations from the report which are not based on facts and current level of understanding of climate and energy issues.

The WBA “strongly” supports the opinion of a growing number of organisations, academics, and experts including IEA Bioenergy that has presented a fact-based response to the report findings and “strongly recommends” Chatham House to reconsider the findings of its report.

Use of fossil fuels the leading cause of climate change

According to the WBA, the report fails to consider the simple fact that the current climate change and global warming is caused by fossil fuels and not bioenergy, blurring the line separating emissions from burning carbon stored in the earth’s crust for millions of years, fossil fuels, and carbon released due to the use of bioenergy as part of the natural earth carbon cycle. Biomass energy is the oldest form of energy source for mankind which has in no way caused the current climate crisis.

Biomass is carbon neutral

The carbon contained in the biomass – subsequently converted to energy – originates from the atmosphere. The use of carbon biomass does not add additional greenhouse gasses (GHG) to the atmosphere as compared to fossil fuels. Even if the biomass is not used for energy, it would return to the atmosphere as wood decays.

The WBA dismisses theories on carbon debt and ‘payback time’ of biomass as not being “credible”, as they are based on the unrealistic assumption that trees are first burned and then grown. Moreover, well-managed forests absorb considerably more carbon from the atmosphere than reserved set-side forests.

Narrow time and area boundaries leads to misleading results

WBA points out that any forest ecosystem has a lifetime of centuries and covers many hectares. If an analysis of the carbon cycle of a forest is limited to a short time period such as a few like decades or a single stand, the interaction over time and space might be overlooked as mentioned in the report, and misleading conclusions are the consequence. The impact of bioenergy should always be assessed on a landscape level and for a longer duration of time.

Forest-based biomass is not all bioenergy

The report, says WBA, attempts to unsuccessfully simplify the complex system of energy generation from biomass. Whilst acknowledging that forest-based biomass is the largest contributor to the bioenergy system, WBA point out that forest-based biomass is one of the several sources of bioenergy adding that there are numerous other sources including energy crops, agricultural residues, municipal solid wastes. The report, WBA says, “conveniently” overlaps forest biomass with all bioenergy.

Sustainable forest management is key for healthy forests

To avoid a net shift of carbon from the forests to the atmosphere, forests have to be managed in a sustainable way and WBA emphasizes support of the basic requirements for sustainable biomass as:

  • Not more biomass is harvested than regrown in a given biomass system
  • The fertility of the soil is safeguarded as well as the water quality
  • The utilization of biomass is managed for protection of biodiversity
  • These are basic rules inherent to any sustainability scheme. It is the responsibility of the governments, private companies, and landowners to enforce these rules for sustainable management. To safeguard the environment, and to meet desired social and economic criteria; sustainability standards have been created including RSB, WBA, GBEP, ISO and others.

Bioenergy sector has many socio-economic benefits

WBA also highlight that the biomass energy sector employs millions of people, leads to local economic development by providing benefits for farmers and forestry owners, ensures energy security for nations trying to reduce their use of imported fossil fuels and is a crucial energy source for a sustainable future transition.

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