NRDC, 19 Other Groups Challenge EU’s Mistaken Climate Decision

BRUSSELS – European Union policymakers agreed late last night on a new Renewable Energy Directive that failed to fix Europe’s broken bioenergy policies. The decision to mistakenly continue to label the indiscriminate burning of wood as “carbon neutral” jeopardizes the EU’s environmental leadership and undercuts its climate targets.

Eleventh-hour closed-door lobbying by the U.K. and others in the EU Council scuttled meaningful reform, and ensures EU policymakers will have to come back to the drawing board on this critical issue.

An unprecedented group of 20 U.S.-based environmental and forest-protection groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace USA, came together today to challenge the EU for this misguided decision. Much of the wood that is now being burned to produce electricity in the U.K. and other member states comes from unique and imperiled forests in the American Southeast.

“The facts are clear: Burning wood for electricity leads to forest destruction and increased carbon emissions. No policy pronouncement can upend the scientific reality,” said Sasha Stashwick, a senior advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “With this decision, EU negotiators have simply guaranteed that they will be back in the near future negotiating a policy U-turn. The sooner they do so, the better.”

Last week, scientists from around the world came together to warn European policymakers that biomass electricity is not a climate solution. As member states compile their climate plans, it is critical they protect forests from the extractive biomass industry and transition to the truly clean, 21st century energy solutions the world needs.

“For those of us living and working in the U.S. South, ground zero for Europe’s wood pellet supply, the impacts are clear, well documented, and devastating,” said Adam Colette, program director at Dogwood Alliance. “Until the EU finally wakes up and meaningfully addresses this issue, it will be up to member states to ensure that our forests, communities, and ability to build resiliency against climate change are not undercut by these policies.


In 2009, the EU labeled the use of whole trees and other woody material in electricity production as a “carbon neutral” source of renewable energy, placing it on par with genuinely zero-carbon energy technologies like solar and wind. As a result, the U.K. and other nations pledged massive subsidies to electricity producers to get them to burn wood for fuel. Biomass, as it is called, is now burned for electricity across Europe, which is increasing the continent’s carbon emissions and leading to widespread forest destruction.

According to report released last week by the Chatham House, electricity from biomass grew across the EU by 51 percent from 2009 to 2016.

Despite efforts by the EU Parliament to forbid the practice of using whole trees as a source of fuel in power plants, the negotiations in Brussels failed to improve the EU’s biomass policy. Burning wood for large-scale electricity production worsens climate change. On-the-ground investigations and research have shown that the EU’s policies and individual countries’ subsidies are leading to the destruction of some of the world’s most stunning and ecologically valuable forests, including those of the U.S. Southeast.

There was one faint bit of good news in the new EU policy directive.

EU member states will be allowed to place additional sustainability requirements for biomass fuels that go beyond the insufficient safeguards agreed by the Union. This means it is now up to individual countries to ensure bioenergy sustainability.


Endorsing organizations:
Carolina Wetlands Association
Center for Biological Diversity
Clean Air Carolina
Clean Air Task Force
Dogwood Alliance
Earth Ethics, Inc.
Environmental Integrity Project
Friends of the Earth – US
Greenpeace USA
Lakelands Citizens for Clean Air, Inc.
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Mighty Earth
Natural Resources Defense Council
Partnership for Policy Integrity
Rachel Carson Council
Sierra Club
Southern Environmental Law Center
The Geos Institute
Washington Forest Law Center

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​

Based in Asheville, North Carolina, Dogwood Alliance mobilizes diverse voices to protect Southern forests and communities from destructive industrial logging. The group’s Our Forests Aren’t Fuel campaign is part of an international coalition opposing industrial-scale forest biomass energy. @DogwoodAlliance



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