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Back Biomass responds to Owen Paterson MP’s remarks to the Global Warming Policy Foundation¹s annual lecture:


Dr Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of the REA, said:

“Owen Paterson is a well-known climate change sceptic and, in this case in particular, does not have a strong grasp of the issues involved.

“The claims he makes about biomass have, quite rightly, been debated and investigated in-depth in recent years and the conclusions of this scientific research are clear: sustainable biomass has a central role to play in a secure, renewable and low-carbon energy mix.

“We would welcome the chance to brief Mr Paterson directly and provide a better understanding of the forest-management and supply chain issues that are core to this important industry.”

In particular, Mr Paterson has failed to recognise the following elements of this issue:

On reducing emissions:
Biomass is a low carbon technology and is the subject of stringent sustainability criteria in the UK.

The biomass sector does not claim to be ‘zero carbon’ but ‘low carbon’. To qualify for Government support under DECC’s world-leading Biomass Sustainability Criteria, biomass electricity generators must demonstrate a reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. across including the whole supply chain) of at least 60%, compared to the EU fossil fuel grid average. That means that we must show a cut in emissions of 60% or more compared to fossil fuels – many generators already far exceed this minimum. 

On taking ‘decades to regrow’ harvested trees:
Biomass ensures forests are kept healthy, and sustainable management means forests grow at least as fast as they are cut down.
Mr Paterson imagines that landowners manage their forests tree by tree. They actually manage them at a landscape scale, ensuring that overall growth in the forest matches or exceeds harvesting rates. Some of the low-quality wood material from harvested trees goes towards energy generation, once higher-paying buyers such as the construction and furniture sectors have bought the high-quality wood. However, this is balanced by growth throughout the forest, brought about through sustainable forest management. Such management is only made possible by financial reinvestment in forestry by sectors such as the biomass industry. Without this income stream, some of the unpurchased wood would be incinerated or rot on the forest floor, hindering efficient growth and emitting carbon dioxide anyway but with no economic return. 

On ‘spending ten times as much to cut down North American forests as we are to stop the cutting down of tropical forests’:
Sustainable management of US forests has resulted in a 31% increase in carbon sequestration.
Firstly, the biomass sector is not ‘cutting down trees’. The sector buys the offcuts, residues, thinnings and low-quality wood left over once higher-paying buyers have bought the best quality wood for construction, furniture and other uses. Secondly, it is only through the establishment of sectors such as the biomass energy market that we can support sustainable, well-regulated and long-term forest management systems. This investment, coupled with local, state, federal and international regulation, has helped the USA to turn a corner on deforestation. Between 1990 and 2010, US forests increased their sequestration of carbon by 31%, planting 4.4billion trees over the last 20 years.

On the allegation that wood ‘generates more CO2 per unit of energy even than coal’:
DECC’s modelling has shown that biomass can and does secure significant carbon savings.
Had Mr Paterson kept up with debate and research on this issue, he would recognise that even the authors of the primary research on which this claim was based have disowned the claim. As demonstrated by the recent biomass modelling report of DECC’s Chief Scientist, biomass can and does secure significant carbon savings. Without a minimum 60% emissions cut compared to fossil fuels, we would not qualify for Government support.

The REA and members of the biomass supply chain are very happy to answer questions or provide more detailed briefings on these issues.