At COP28 civil society calls for exclusion of big biomass from global renewable energy target

December 7, 2023
Large-scale biomass energy undermines international climate ambition at the United Nations summit

Press release crossposted from EPN’s Biomass Action Network:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – As COP28 enters its second week, civil society organizations from around the world gathered today to sound the alarm on big biomass energy, calling for its exclusion from what must be an ambitious Global Renewable Energy target.

The Biomass Action Network, composed of 283 CSOs across 59 countries convened by the Environmental Paper Network, outlined that burning biomass is as emissive as coal per unit of energy produced – while the industry drives forest destruction and subjects communities to harmful pollution, land grabbing and environmental degradation.

Over 100 countries joined a pledge in the first days of COP28 to triple renewable energy expansion by 2030. But both climate and forest advocates are warning that this pledge would be severely undermined by the inclusion of the false solution of biomass energy.

“This COP will be a success if it delivers an outcome that triples renewable energy deployment, doubles energy efficiency, and secures a fair, fast, full, funded phase out of all fossil fuels,” said David Tong, Global Industry Campaign Manager for Oil Change International and Co-coordinator of the Energy Working Group of Climate Action Network International. “But let me be very clear: Burning forests for electricity is a disaster for climate, for ecosystems, and for people and communities. That’s not renewable energy.”

Biomass sourcing and wood pellet production is also extremely harmful for communities around the world. The insatiable demand for biomass – artificially propped up by subsidies intended to support the expansion of genuine renewables such as wind and solar– causes air pollution that is harming human health.

“It is imperative that the UNFCCC recognizes the human rights injustices of wood pellets manufacturing and stop treating wood bioenergy as a viable climate solution,” said Katherine Egland, Co-founder of the Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate and Health Organization (EEECHO) and Chair of NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee. “The U.S. is the largest exporter of wood biomass. People in the southeastern United States cannot breathe due to the air pollution. They are being sacrificed, and suffering from sleep deprivation from the noise pollution and respiratory diseases and other environmental health deteriorations in a failed, misguided effort to reach 1.5°C.” 

Deploying biomass on a large scale leads to devastating land-use changes with far-reaching consequences, including forest and biodiversity loss, and violating the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Biomass expansion increasingly entails land grabs around the world, as forests are seized and logged for biomass and replaced with tree plantations, and agricultural land is also alienated to grow thirsty monoculture plantations to fuel power plants. The wood is increasingly shipped to the Global North to fuel large scale centralized energy generators.

“The change of the fossil energy system into a renewable energy system is inevitable, thus communities should be in the center of the transition. In this transition process, biomass energy is being pushed more than ever to Africa. The examples on the ground show that communities have been displaced and their lands taken over to plant timber for energy production,” said Kwami Kpondzo, Global Forest Coalition and Coordinator Africa working group of Biomass Action Network. “Leaders have to and must protect people and communities’ rights over the interests of companies that promote biomass.”

Scientific evidence shows that burning biomass emits as much or more carbon at the smokestack than coal, including a recent report from Solutions for Our Climate analyzing South Korea’s biomass emissions at the point of combustion. However, flawed UNFCCC carbon accounting rules have created a dangerous incentive to burn forests for energy – while providing cover for continued coal power generation via converting generators to co-fire wood with coal.

“Co-firing coal with biomass as a so-called form of ‘abatement’ of coal is a dangerous scam,” said Peg Putt, Co-coordinator of the Biomass Action Network. “Burning coal is entrenched while emissions are not reduced at all, air pollution from the smokestack continues, and the ability of forests to contribute to combatting the climate and biodiversity is undermined during the crucial period for emissions reductions.”


Resources and background information:

Media GuideForest Biomass Resources for Media at COP28: Background Materials and International Experts | and contributing organizations

Fact SheetHow a Carbon Accounting Problem Is Driving the Biomass Delusion | Environmental Paper Network