When it comes to EU climate and environmental policy, Sweden is considered a progressive force. In the past, the country has repeatedly urged EU member states to be more ambitious in climate protection and to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. However, when it comes to its own forestry industry, which is harmful to nature and the climate, Sweden’s ambitions for climate and environmental protection quickly fade into the background. This is currently very clear from Sweden’s position on the amendment to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). In addition to the faster expansion of renewable energies, this also includes regulations for the use of biomass.
So far, the EU subsidizes when forest wood is used as a supposed renewable energy source for power generation. Forests as important carbon reservoirs are thus cleared for burning in power plants. Members of the European Parliament now want to change that. They propose to exclude wood biomass from renewable energy support in order to restore European forests as valuable carbon sinks.
Subsidies make wood burning profitable
However, the Swedish Council Presidency consistently ignores these proposals. Instead, the country is relying on business as usual and making proposals that sound like something from the forestry industry’s list of demands. Ambitious steps in the direction of climate and nature protection are long overdue in the amendment of the RED. The exemption of wood combustion from the CO2 tax in emissions trading and the RED subsidies make it profitable to burn millions of trees in power plants.
Scientists have long warned that cutting and burning forests harms both biodiversity and climate. Wood burning emits even more CO2 per unit of energy than coal, while increased logging ensures that forests can bind even less CO2 from the air. But it’s not just scientists and associations that are sounding the alarm – the wood-processing industries, which compete with the biomass industry for wood as a valuable material, are also calling for an end to subsidies.
Despite these warnings, relevant decision makers failed to limit wood burning in the last revision of the RED. Instead, sustainability criteria for forest biomass were included, which do almost nothing to protect forests and the climate.
Half of all wood for energy production
The consequences are now becoming clear: More than half of the wood harvested in the EU is burned for energy production. Since 2018, several member states have effectively lost their forest CO2 sinks, in part due to excessive logging. Among them are Estonia, Latvia, and Finland. Their forests are now sources of climate-damaging CO2. Germany’s forest sink is also increasingly being reduced.
Sweden is also experiencing an alarming decline in the carbon uptake of its forests. Yet the country is trying to impose its industrial forestry model on the rest of the EU. As long as burning trees is considered a renewable energy source, however, EU member states have little incentive to invest in actual low-carbon technologies.
EU policymakers must not give in to pressure from the Swedish Council Presidency now. As Minister for Climate Action, Robert Habeck must lobby the EU Council to limit and phase out incentives for burning wood so that they do not undermine the EU’s climate and biodiversity goals. EU citizens want and deserve a future with clean energy that protects the climate, forests and health – the Swedish EU Presidency has a responsibility to ensure this.