(CN) – Europe could see an increase in greenhouse gas levels over the next several decades due to a new directive that classifies wood as a renewable fuel – giant steps backward from the mandates of the Paris Climate Agreement – according to a scientific paper published Wednesday.
This summer, European officials released the final language of a new energy directive to nearly double the EU’s use of renewable energy by 2030. In the final draft, lawmakers categorized wood as a low-carbon fuel.
Eight scientists from several universities across the globe say this new classification allows for whole trees and portions of forests to be cut down. The directive, they believe, flies in the face of years of efforts to recycle used paper instead of using it to burn for energy.
While wood may be renewable, the scientists say cutting down and burning wood for energy increases carbon in the atmosphere for decades to hundreds of years, depending on multiple variables, and is an inefficient means to produce electricity or heat.
Often referred to as bioenergy, industries burn the leftovers from their manufacturing process – like the timber industry when they prepare lumber in sawmills – but the scientists say the new directive goes beyond that model to burn much larger amounts of wood just for energy.
Trees do regrow and reabsorb carbon that escapes into the atmosphere, but that takes years and is unlikely to collect the additional carbon generated by not leaving the forests alone in first place, the scientists say.
The paper predicts this type of wood burning could account for 10 to 15 percent of Europe’s emissions by 2050. What could have been a 5 percent decrease in emissions required under the directive using solar or wind energy would in effect turn into a 5 to 10 percent increase by using wood, the scientists say.
“Globally, if the world were to supply only an additional 2 percent of its energy from wood, it would need to double commercial wood harvests around the world with harsh effects on forests,” said research scholar Tim Searchinger of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the study’s lead author.
To make matters worse, other countries, like rainforest-rich Brazil and Indonesia, say they will follow suit and try to reduce the effect of climate change by increasing their use of wood for bioenergy.
Co-authors of the paper come from Humboldt University of Berlin, University of California, Berkeley, University of Louvain in Belgium and others.