BBC and CBC expose Canada subsidy scheme that chops whole trees for fuel export

October 7, 2022

səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Territories (Vancouver, BC) — Canada is being exposed for subsidizing false climate solutions following investigations by the CBC and BBC that whole trees from British Columbia are being logged, ground into pellets and exported for biomass in the UK.

Watch this recent video from environmental group Stand.earth, narrated by Emma Thompson, explaining how burning biomass is harmful.

Earlier this evening, CBC’s The Fifth Estate shed light on how B.C. has become a leading exporter of wood pellets that are burned to fuel energy needs in the U.K., Japan and South Korea, while on Tuesday, the BBC’s Panorama focused on Drax, a massive utility in the UK, which sources whole trees from B.C’.’s primary and natural forests which are transformed into wood pellets and exported and burned in the UK. Burning biomass emits more carbon dioxide per unit of energy generated than burning fossil fuels, and logging forests for fuel is degrading the forest carbon sink in Europe and in other regions that supply wood pellets, most notably the U.S. southeast, British Columbia and a range of other provinces in Canada. And yet, Canadian politicians are subsidizing the forest biomass industry to feed international demand for coal plants to burn. The greatest global demand is in the United Kingdom, where more wood than the UK can produce is being incinerated in the name of the green economy.

“Burning trees for energy is definitively at odds with a clean energy transition that keeps us at the 1.5 degrees of warming threshold,” said Maya Menezes, Senior Climate Justice Campaigner, Stand.earth. “Municipal, provincial and federal governments has been made aware of the devastation caused by the wood pellet industry repeatedly. This puts Canada out of sync with both domestic and international climate goals while simultaneously putting all communities in danger.”

Canada is now the world’s second largest exporter of wood pellets. Deliberately flawed emissions accounting are having devastating impacts on forests meaning that this industry is doubling it’s harmful climate impacts and raising emissions by masking them in a numbers game. Burning wood and other biomass currently accounts for around 60 per cent of renewable energy production in the EU and UK, while emitting more CO2 at the smokestack than coal. Despite this, most governments still treat burning trees and other woody biomass as a “zero carbon” or “carbon neutral” form of renewable energy, making it eligible for lucrative subsidies earmarked for the new green economy.

At COP 26 in Glasgow, scientists, policy experts and advocates sounded the alarm that replacing coal with burning forest biomass is increasing carbon emissions and destroying forest ecosystems. The use of wood pellets for “renewable” energy production has grown due the provision of massive subsidies by governments like the United Kingdom. In the UK the subsidies top a billion pounds, while provincial and federal subsidies in Canada help keep the forest biomass industry propped up with taxpayer dollars, instead of funding critical green energy that we will need to weather the climate crisis.

“Momentum is building against the biomass industry all over the world,” said Maya Menezes, Senior Climate Justice Campaigner, Stand.earth. “Parliaments in the UK and EU are waking up to the science, and finally understanding that this industry is destroying forests and putting communities at risk while using public tax dollars in the billions, earmarked for the clean energy transition. With COP27 in Egypt just a month away, and the CBD COP15 in Montreal in December, all eyes will be on the Canadian decision makers and ministers to act swiftly and end their domestic contributions to the global subsidy regime preventing us from hitting our climate targets.”

To win true climate justice, we must move beyond burning carbon. Stand.earth is calling on the Canadian government today to stop investing in false climate solutions and keep forests standing.

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Media contacts: 

Ziona Eyob, Media Director – Canada, canadamedia@stand.earth, +1 604 757 7279 (Pacific Time)