Biomass standards - Greenpeace response

Last edited 22 August 2013 at 3:11pm
22 August, 2013

For immediate release - 22/08/2013

In response to the government publishing their sustainability standards for energy generation from biomass, Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist at Greenpeace UK, said -

“The loopholes in these sustainability standards are big enough to drive a logging truck through. Having learnt nothing from the biofuels debacle, the Government has ignored the latest scientific research and produced standards that will take a potentially sustainable industry and transform it into one more way to greenwash environmental destruction. The climate isn’t going to fall for creative accounting and neither should the public.”


The new sustainability standards have made some improvements from the original drafts published last year, in particular confirming that the standards will become mandatory, and that the standard for the apparent emissions associated with bioenergy will be tightened (although see points 1 and 2 below) . But the improvements are overwhelmed by the failure to deal with several major issues, which means that there can be no guarantee that bioenergy in UK will be beneficial for climate change. The holes are:

1.No mention of carbon debt or carbon stock - Numerous scientific reports have highlighted that burning biomass is a high carbon source of energy, only becoming low carbon if regrowth of forests occurs, and before this happens there will be a ‘carbon debt’ where more carbon dioxide is in the Earth’s atmosphere, even, in the worst cases, when compared to using coal instead of biomass. 

2.No mention of indirect material use change or land use change – if wood chip is diverted to bioenergy use instead of other uses, this could have substantial climate impacts. For example, if wood destined for fibre-board in construction is diverted to bioenergy and is replaced by steel the climate implications would be significant. Residual wastes which have no other use can contribute genuine emissions reductions but supplies may well be limited and large-scale use would be unsustainable.

3.       These issues were meant to have been examined by a piece of work in DECC being overseen by Chief Scientist David Mackay. Although a draft version of this work was shown to stakeholders earlier this year, bearing out the concerns in the points above, DECC have chosen to publish the sustainability standards before that work is completed.

4.       DECC are advocating use of existing Govt Timber purchasing guidelines. Greenpeace believes that the best available standard, FSC, should be adopted, as other standards that could be allowed by the scheme are not adequate.

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