Swedish NGOs raise sustainability concerns over Renewable Energy Directive

Published by James Orr on

A group of Swedish NGOs has called on the European Parliament to dramatically enhance the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) due to concerns about the sustainability of the bioenergy industry.

In the open letter to the MEPs, the NGOs outline their desire for radical improvements to proposals on bioenergy sustainability and transport biofuels in the Directive.

The Parliament’s Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety Committee are currently reviewing the RED. MEPs are scheduled to vote on the Directive on 23 October 2017.

Data from 2015 shows that bioenergy comprised 63 per cent of renewable energy in Europe, making up 10.5 per cent of all European energy production.

The NGOs list a number of areas in RED that need amending. They put significant emphasis on bioenergy saying that MEPs need to account for indirect emissions in calculations on the sustainability of biofuels.

These indirect emissions include where cropland biofuel production displaces the current land use, in many cases leading to peatland drainage and deforestation.

Since 2009, the amount of EU-produced biodiesel from crops grown in Europe has remained stable but the palm oil imports have skyrocketed to meet the growing needs of the biofuels market.

A Transport and Energy report from 2016 incorporating these indirect emissions found that, on average, biodiesels can produce 80 per cent higher emissions over their full lifecycle than the fossil fuels they replace.

The NGOs also demand additional incentives encouraging renewable electrification of transport, principally powered by solar energy.

According to the NGO letter, current policies are encouraging Member States to harvest and burn ttreesas biofuel.

This leads to increased emissions of greenhouse gases and decreases biodiversity, contradicting the aims of RED, the letter reads.

Scandinavian Forestry Lobby

The letter alleges that the Swedish and Finnish forest industries are “strong lobbyists” for such policy, using the climate as a “pretext to increase their forest harvest, production and economic rates”.

Under the EU Habitats Directive, 14 of the 15 forest biotopes in Sweden are not in favourable conservation condition.  As a result, over 1,800 forest-living species are on the Swedish red list published in 2015.

“Forests are systematically clear-cut and replaced by even-aged conifer tree plantations, poor of species, to acquire alleged sustainable wood products and bioenergy,” the letter states.

“Planetary boundaries for climate and biodiversity are already exceeded and catastrophic consequences are ahead if stringent climate mitigation measures are not urgently taken.”

A group of 190 scientists from across the world has highlighted a need for scientific guidance on EU climate policy regarding forests.

In a statement released last month, they said that bioenergy derived from forests is not carbon neutral.

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James Orr

James is The Green New's Biodiversity Reporter and a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Dublin. James has a BA in Zoology from TCD.