Bioeconomy hype shouldn’t put biodiversity preservation at risk, experts say

There is no shortage of support in Poland to replace coal-generated energy with energy produced from biomass. However, scientists warn against the damage to biodiversity that can be caused by treating bioenergy from forest biomass as a renewable energy source. [Nova / Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Bioeconomy in the CAP’s nine objectives.

This article is also available in Portuguese, Italian and Spanish.

While experts say Poland could become key for the EU’s bioeconomy, scientists are calling for the sustainable use of the country’s forest resources in energy production. EURACTIV Poland reports.

The bioeconomy is expected to play an important role in achieving climate neutrality in the European Union and of the nine objectives of the future EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for 2021-2027, at least half relate directly to the bioeconomy.

Managing renewable and mineral resources will play an important role in the EU’s path to climate neutrality and experts agree that Central and Eastern European countries, including Poland, have great potential in this field.

There is no shortage of support in Poland to replace coal-generated energy with energy produced from biomass. However, scientists warn against the damage to biodiversity that can be caused by treating bioenergy from forest biomass as a renewable energy source.

In March, the EU will present an updated biodiversity strategy, which is known to include “quantitative targets for increasing the area of land and sea protected areas with rich biodiversity”. Awareness of the role of ecosystems has increased in recent years, hence the efforts to save them.

In a recent conversation with EURACTIV Poland, Zbigniew Karaczun from the Warsaw School of Life Sciences argued that the transfer of part of the funds from the CAP to the European Green Deal is beneficial for farmers because agriculture is increasingly affected by climate change,

This manifests itself in the form of droughts or heavy rainfall, which leads to consumers having to pay higher prices for agricultural produce.

“The agricultural economy is most vulnerable to climate change and if it goes too far, it could be catastrophic for Europe’s farming sector and consequently affect food prices for consumers”, said Karaczun.

CAP needs drastic change, says Polish professor

In an interview with Environment Protection Dr Zbigniew Karaczun of the Warsaw University of life Sciences, EURACTIV Poland’s Mateusz Kucharczyk finds out what the Polish professor has to say about the Commission’s new CAP proposal and urged to enact new laws, as opposed to just reforming existing regulations.

Polish advantages

In this context, the role of, for example, the new EU Forestry Strategy will increase in the next few years, including effective forestation, protection and reclamation of forests in Europe.

This will increase carbon sequestration, reduce forest fires and effectively promote the bioeconomy while respecting ecological principles.

To this end, the EU has asked individual EU member states to prepare strategic plans under the CAP for appropriate forest management measures.

The Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) report prepared in 2018 shows that Poland has the potential to become one of the European leaders in bioeconomy.

However, according to the authors of the analysis, it is necessary to prepare an appropriate strategy, undertake educational activities and implement innovations.

According to experts, the use of biomass on a wider scale in place of coal could be an opportunity for the Polish heating industry and energy suppliers. They are currently struggling with higher electricity prices for private consumers, which have on average risen 20% since the start of 2020, compared to last year.

The warning from scientists

In 2018, Hanna Bartoszewicz-Burczy from the Institute of Power Engineering argued in her analysis entitled “Potential and use of biomass in Central European countries” that Poland has a high share of agricultural land and forests, which should translate into high biomass potential.

The supporters argue that the burning of biomass is less invasive for the environment and is also outside the scope of the mechanism related to carbon emissions.

In Europe, the climate for obtaining energy by means of biomass combustion is favourable, taking into account, for example, the government’s desire to base the national power and heating sector on national resources.

However, there are also difficulties in this case. First of all, there is still a lack of systemic support for institutions that want to produce energy from biomass.

And there’s also the climate issue.

In November 2019, the last unresolved renewable energy sources auction took place, including PLN20 billion in the biomass basket to be distributed. However, uncertainty about the EU’s attitude towards biomass causes the Polish government to tread very carefully when it comes to plans to replace coal in power plants with biomass.

The first EU wide sustainability criteria for forest biomass must reach the market

In June 2018, the European Commission, Parliament and Council reached a deal cementing Europe’s position as a world leader in the fight against climate change for the next decade, write Jean-Marc Jossart and Seth Ginther.

Scientists, who deal with the environment and climate on a daily basis, are definitely against this scenario.

In a letter to the government and parliament, they called for limited use of forest biomass in energy production. Experts suggest the solution to the problem of global climate change is to protect and rebuild forests – not to burn them.

“We already know that burning forest wood for energy production on a large scale threatens biodiversity and affects climate change,” the signatories of the letter wrote.

A similar view is held by representatives of the European think tank Sandbag. In December last year, they published a report entitled “Playing with fire”. It shows that an increase in the use of biomass considered as a renewable energy source may contribute to adverse climate changes.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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