Ministers to discuss role of forests in energy scramble

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Responding to climate change and energy concerns while conserving forests and biodiversity will be among the topics of discussion during an informal meeting of environment ministers this weekend in Slovenia.

“There are indications that in certain regions the increased use of wood for energy has already shifted management towards intensification of production, which may negatively impact biodiversity,” says a background paper prepared by the Slovenian EU Presidency for the 11-14 April informal Council meeting.

The Commission is proposing a 10% increase in biofuels over the next 12 years as part of efforts to achieve a 20% share of renewable energy use by 2020. But there are growing concerns about the biodiversity and climate change impacts of more biofuels cultivation, both within the EU and in developing countries like Brazil and Indonesia, where the cultivation of biomass for biofuels production has boomed.

In the EU, the targets are “likely to create a greater market for forest biomass to meet increased demand for feedstock. The rate of utilisation of forests is therefore likely to rise,” says the background paper.

The Slovenian Presidency argues that “bioenergy” can only be considered sustainable if it creates “no additional pressures on forest biodiversity, soil, water and other forest resources, including the greenhouse-gas sink potential of forests”.

Member states are in discussions about the appropriate sustainability criteria that should be used to guide the EU’s biofuels and biomass production drive. Many EU countries want to set stricter sustainability criteria (EURACTIV 01/04/08), and there has been some speculation that the EU may revise its targets due to fears of intolerable hikes in food prices, mass deforestation and water shortages (EURACTIV 14/03/08).

A Council working group has been established to discuss the issue in greater detail and is scheduled to submit a report to member states on 7 May. The debate is set to continue throughout the year, with the French EU Presidency seeking a deal on the renewables proposal before the end of 2008. 

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