Big biomass appears in an invisibility cloak in the COP28 decision

December 13, 2023
COP28 decision text heightens concern over big biomass energy expansion, its high carbon emissions and community impacts.

Press release crossposted from EPN’s Biomass Action Network:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Concerns about the dramatic escalation of big biomass energy have been heightened by the COP28 decision text adopted in Dubai today.

The Biomass Action Network – composed of 283 civil society organizations across 59 countries, and convened by the Environmental Paper Network – is warning that today’s outcome could fail to generate meaningful emissions reductions, and instead lead to increased pollution, forest destruction and human rights abuses, unless countries step up to exclude big biomass from their renewable energy mixes. 

Biomass energy, frequently in the form of burning wood pellets for fuel to generate electricity, generates as much or more carbon dioxide emissions at the smokestack as coal. Due to a carbon accounting problem, these emissions are not counted and the dirty fuel has been propped up as a supposed renewable energy.

Although never explicitly mentioned in final texts adopted at COP28, biomass energy is hiding under an invisibility cloak in sections on phasing down unabated coal and in the tripling of a global renewable energy target, among others.

The Phasedown of Unabated Coal Power

‘Abating’ coal often refers to co-firing biomass – adding wood and other fuels to burn with coal in power generation. As a consequence coal-fired power is entrenched, forests and forest communities are threatened, and emissions are not reduced – except for on paper. 

“The disappointing decision to include dubious forms of alleged abated coal power must not be interpreted as a green light to co-fire forest biomass with coal in energy generators,” said Peg Putt, Co-coordinator of the EPN Biomass Action Network. “Already governments are putting in place plans to burn forest biomass together with coal.”

“The biomass being burned is just as emissive as coal per unit of energy, but a misleading carbon accounting methodology fails to record those emissions at the smokestack although those of coal are recorded. This enticing lie underpins the claims to abatement of coal emissions by this controversial method.”

Global Renewable Energy Target

Globally, biomass energy already accounts for more than 50% of all renewables and is projected to grow rapidly. At COP28, civil society from around the world called for the exclusion of big biomass from the global renewable energy target, highlighting the serious consequences of the growing sector on communities, forests, and the climate. The growth of big biomass energy brings not only carbon emissions that are as high or higher than coal at the stack, but also drives forest destruction and subjects communities to harmful pollution, land grabbing, and environmental degradation.

“While tripling renewable energy is an important step, this outcome is undermined by the inclusion of big biomass energy which emits at least as much carbon as coal per unit of energy produced, whilst also threatening communities and forests around the world,” said Putt. “We can’t afford dangerous distractions like biomass as we move away from fossil fuels. Countries must now step up and make sure that big biomass energy is not part of their renewable energy mix.”


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