New report shows Dutch sustainability criteria for biomass unlawful

A report, published this week by five (inter)national environmental organisations (Biofuelwatch UK, Comite Schone Lucht NL, Leefmilieu, Dogwood Alliance VS and Estonian Fund for Nature ES) shows that the largest certification programme (SBP) used for logging does not meet the Dutch sustainability criteria. Certification appears to be entirely in the hands of the wood pellet industry itself. As a result, a legitimate and objective sustainability standard for biomass energy is missing. Nevertheless, the Dutch government provides billions of euros in biomass subsidies to energy companies on the basis of this SBP certification. Now that it appears that SBP certification is not a guarantee that the subsidy criteria are met, the Dutch government should stop subsidies for wood pellets certified by SBP and reconsider the decision to recognise SBP certification as a sustainability standard, according to the environmental organisations.

Crucial moment

The results come at a crucial time, namely ahead of three events that will determine the future approach to biomass combustion over the next 5-15 years; 1) European adoption of the new sustainability directive in the final trilogues on February 7; 2) Dutch parliamentary hearing on subsidies for biomass energy on February 16; and 3) Dutch adoption of the sustainability framework for biomass this spring, by Rob Jetten, Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.

The investigation revealed, among other things, a lack of proper investigation of claims made by pellet producers and sources of information provided by them. For example, Enviva, the world’s largest timber producer in the US, claims that “forestry and clear-cutting” of forests rich in wildlife has “ecological benefits”. The certifier (SCS Global) uncritically accepted Enviva’s claim despite strong evidence to the contrary. In addition, there is evidence of inconsistent interpretation of evidence by certifiers: the regional risk assessments for Latvia and Estonia, both conducted by Preferred by Nature, contradict each other regarding the impact of logging on forest birds. In the case of Latvia, logging is classified as a risk to forest bird species. In the case of neighboring Estonia, some of the same forest bird species are not considered to be at risk from logging.

Under the current certification, it is assumed that the carbon storage (‘sink’) of forests will remain sufficient, regardless of the extent of forest and clear-cutting. Even when forests (as in Estonia) have recently become a net source of carbon emissions. This is done by relying on models of future tree growth, despite the fact that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that we do not have decades left to reduce carbon emissions for climate stabilization. Burning wood pellets in large power stations is only possible thanks to generous subsidies for sustainable energy under the Dutch

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