Will Europe Make Another Bad Bet on Fossil Fuels by Sidelining Biomass?

Will Europe Make Another Bad Bet on Fossil Fuels by Sidelining Biomass?

Europe has weathered a hard year of energy insecurity attributable to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and global climate change impacts, including unprecedented floods, droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves. Record-breaking energy prices have rocked economies, and the economic fallout from Europe’s dependence on imported gas is only expected to get worse as winter gives Putin another chance to weaponize fossil fuels. Europe has considered several climate-damaging economic emergency steps, including imports of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and temporarily bringing retired coal plants back online. Now, the block is considering measures to move away from biomass energy, a woody, sustainable resource Putin can’t destabilize.

Al Jazeera: Inflation and an energy crunch, what's next for Europe's economy? | Counting the Cost, July 30, 2022.

CBS: Global gas prices continue to feel impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine, June 14, 2022.

CBS: How climate change could benefit Russia, December 18, 2020.

Europe has had a perplexing history with low-carbon energy. Germany famously moved to shut down its zero-emissions nuclear plants, and now some policymakers want to limit the use of bioenergy through proposed amendments to the Renewable Energy Directive (REDIII) that would declassify “primary woody biomass” as renewable energy.

DW: German government scrambles for solutions to cope with the energy crisis, August 30, 2022.

Channel 4: Energy price cap | Households face annual bills of more than £3,500 from October, August 26, 2022.

At the same time, Europe has made a wildly controversial push to classify natural gas as “clean energy.” Critical votes in parliament will happen in September and October on all of these issues. “It’s a vexing time to be taking clean energy sources off the table,” said David Wade, a former State Department Chief of Staff who worked on the Paris Climate Agreement and is WW0’s chairman.

France 24: Europe 'spooked' by energy crisis | "They should have done something before," August 31, 2022.

Bloomberg: Europe to See 'Steep' GDP Contraction as Natural Gas Spikes, August 17, 2022.

Why It Matters

For the EU to have a chance at hitting its ambitious climate goals, the bloc has been in need of more clean energy (including in its hard-to-abate sectors) even before Russia’s destabilizing actions caused record-high energy price inflation. Biomass is essential to the future of carbon removal efforts through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage technology. Leading models show that the use of bioenergy must at least double to reach climate neutrality by 2050. As stated by the International Energy Agency (IEA), maximizing bioenergy use will also be key to reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels.

“Europe and the world do not have to choose between addressing today’s energy security crisis and the climate crisis,” said IEA Director Dr. Fatih Birol. “The lasting solution to both crises is a huge and rapid scaling up of investment in energy efficiency, renewables, and other clean technologies.”

Drax: What is BECCS? Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage animation, June 15, 2021.

DW: Biofuel instead of coal and oil | How promising are these renewable resources?, June 4, 2022.

FT: Carbon capture: the hopes, challenges and controversies, April 5, 2022.

Europe And Sustainable Biomass

For decades, sustainable biomass was a European success story. It was the first and only renewable energy source to have specific sustainability criteria enshrined in EU law and has already done more than any other renewable to keep fossil carbon safely in the ground. Biomass currently accounts for 20% of Europe’s renewable energy consumption. Residential and district heating systems and power stations have converted from fossil fuels to run on the byproducts and residues of sustainable forestry operations. In total, woody biomass heats 50 million homes and generates 40 gigawatts of on-demand power, contributing more to Europe’s renewable energy goals than wind, solar, and hydro output combined.

DW: International Energy Agency warns Europe of insufficient supplies to see through winter, July 19, 2022.

IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use, March 18, 2022.

CNBC: Why Big Tech Is Pouring Money Into Carbon Removal, June 28, 2022.