‘Too early’ to revise Europe’s bioenergy rules, EU countries say

"It is too early to revise bioenergy sustainability provisions and considerably increase its administrative cost,” reads the letter, signed by the energy or economic ministers of Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, and Sweden. [Kletr / Shutterstock]

A coalition of 10 EU member states, led by Sweden, have written to the French EU Council Presidency and the European Commission to warn against the planned revision of sustainability criteria for bioenergy, saying it is too early to do so.

The letter, seen by EURACTIV, refers to a proposed revision of the EU’s renewable energy directive, which the European Commission tabled in July as part of a package of legislation aimed at cutting the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions 55% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Sustainability criteria for biomass were already revised in 2018 as part of the directive’s last update, the signatories point out.

Rewriting the rules now does not make sense, they argue, warning against repeated revisions of EU bioenergy legislation that risk undermining investor confidence in the sector.

“It is too early to revise bioenergy sustainability provisions and considerably increase its administrative cost,” reads the letter, signed by the energy or economic ministers of Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, and Sweden.

“Such a move would put the EU’s reputation concerning long-term investments seriously in doubt and risk delaying our energy and climate transition,” they warn.

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The European Union must increase the amount of renewable energy it uses and cut energy consumption by 2030 under proposals the bloc’s executive Commission published on Wednesday (14 July) to help meet a more ambitious goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The missive is dated Wednesday 19 January and is addressed to the French EU Council Presidency as well as the country’s minister for the ecological transition, Barbara Pompili. Also copied are the EU’s climate chief Frans Timmermans and the EU’s energy commissioner, Kadri Simson.

France currently holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency and is hosting a three-day meeting in Amiens where Pompili will welcome the bloc’s environment and energy ministers for informal talks.

The meeting includes a session on the contribution of forests to the EU’s climate and energy goals on Friday afternoon (14h45-17h15), where the ten EU countries will have an opportunity to air their concerns.

“Bioenergy represents the largest share of renewable energy in the EU,” the letter emphasises, with close to 60% of the bloc’s green energy currently coming from biomass. “A stable legislative framework,” including pending implementing rules to be adopted under the EU’s renewable energy directive, “is needed in order to meet the EU’s climate ambitions,” they argue.

Moreover, “national characteristics concerning forest management practices, geographical location and energy production of member states have not been sufficiently considered” in the EU’s proposed new biomass rules, the ten ministers write.

Those demands echo concerns expressed by Bioenergy Europe, an industry association. In a recent statement, Bioenergy Europe warned against “excessive red tape” for small bioenergy producers, saying it “risks forcing significant numbers of small operators to switch back to fossil fuels, with negative implications for jobs and growth in rural areas.”

Hackles raised over 'unbalanced' forest policy ahead of EU ministerial meeting

EU countries, industry and lawmakers are pushing back against the European Commission’s new forest strategy, criticising a lack of balance between the different roles performed by forests – economic, social and environmental.

But environmentalists say updated sustainability rules for bioenergy are necessary in order to protect Europe’s forests and preserve their ability to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“Our legal analysis of the existing bioenergy sustainability standards shows they  will lead to continued, large-scale destruction of forests, and this catastrophe for the climate and nature will not end continue unless they are changed,” said Martin Pigeon, a campaigner at FERN, an NGO dedicated to protecting forests and the rights of people who depend on them.

According to FERN, citing administrative burden is not a valid reason to prevent new legislation from being implemented. “The administrative burden they talk about are precisely the steps needed to check that our renewable energy policy is not leading to the destruction of nature. They should show less contempt or risk alienating their citizens,” Pigeon said.

“These countries are barking up the wrong tree,” said Alex Mason from WWF. “The damage done to the EU’s reputation and to investor confidence is due to the EU’s crazy bioenergy policies – not to attempts to fix them!” he told EURACTIV.

“Instead of writing letters like this ministers should be explaining to their citizens why they want to fight climate change by burning trees – when that will increase emissions for decades or even centuries compared to fossil fuels,” Mason said.

> Read the full letter below or download here.

Bioenergy letter

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