On the 14th of September the European Parliament voted to adopt revisions to the Renewable Energy Directive, which in broad strokes determines if biomass from the forest can be classified as sustainable or not. The adopted revisions entail a restriction on the share of primary raw wood material that can be classified as renewable energy. Politicians from northern Sweden have, with the support of North Sweden, drafted a letter addressed to the members of the European Parliament where they asked for legislation that would also work in the arctic regions, which to a large extent is heated and provided with electricity from this type of biomass.
An expansion of renewable energy sources is a central concern if the EU is to achieve its goals within the Green New Deal, which has as its aim making the EU climate neutral 2050. The most important tool to promote energy from renewable energy sources in the EUs arsenal is the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). In the third proposed revision of the directive (RED III) the sustainability criteria for biomass have been amended, which would mean that biomass directly from the Swedish forests could not be classified as a sustainable resource if it is used to produce heat and electricity.
On the 14th of September the European Parliament passed the revisions of the directive in Strasbourg with 418 votes in favor, 109 votes against, and 111 abstaining votes. The parliamentarians adopted the amendment which requires a gradual decrease of the amount of primary raw wood material that can be regarded as renewable energy.
- We unfortunately were not able to secure a win this time, but our fight for the primary raw wood material continues in the coming negotiations. The arguments from Europaforum Northern Sweden´s position on energy and also the letter is something we will continue to work with, says Carina Christiansen, project leader for bioeconomy at the North Sweden European Office in Brussels.
She adds that the Nordic countries with forestry are not the only ones fighting for a directive that allows for residual products directly from the forest to be used as bioenergy.
- There are several countries in the south of Europe that are dependent on this type of biomass from the forests to prevent wildfires and in this situation, it is a great advantage for forest owners to be able to sell biomass so they can afford necessary forest management.
Renewable raw materials from the forest are crucial for how the Arctic regions are supposed to get through winter
As the vote drew closer, four politicians from northern Sweden, that jointly represent hundreds of thousands of households, wrote a letter to the members of the European Parliament with the support of North Sweden. The letter is signed by the president of Åre municipality, Daniel Danielsson, a representative of the Arjeplog municipality, Britta Flinkfeldt, the regional council for Norrbotten, Nils-Olov Lindfors, and Jonny Lundin, member of the Västernorrland county council.
The letter was also published in one of the most influential newspapers in Brussels, Politico Europe in the form of an opinion piece. In the letter, it is emphasized that biomass directly from the forest to a large extent heats northern Sweden and produces electricity as well as steam for industries. The letter’s authors therefore ask for legislation that is also viable for the Arctic regions. The piece in Politico also contains a link that informs of the crucial role that bioenergy has in Sweden as well as a link to the latest position of politician-network Europaforum Northern Sweden´s, a network where the abovementioned politicians and North Sweden are a part of, regarding the energy situation in the EU. These forms of collaborative advocacy work are crucial if the interests of northern Sweden are to be heard and seen on the Brussels arena. The letter can be read in its entirety below.
''To the EU-parliamentarians that negotiate about our heat: RED III
We are representatives of hundreds of thousands of households in municipalities in northern Sweden, in the EU's arctic region, in the EU's coldest region with long hard cold and dark winters.
In our municipalities, we heat our homes, our hospitals, our nursing homes and our kindergartens with renewable raw materials from the forest, namely wood chips. Chips are made from shredded biomass from branches and tops after felling, but also from smaller trees, damaged logs, material from the forest that cannot be used for boards.
This means that we do not worry about a shortage of Russian oil and gas. We can handle the winter cold anyway.
We worry instead about the negotiations currently taking place in Brussels in the EU Parliament.
On September 12, you members will vote on the Renewables Directive.
You are to vote on whether biomass directly from the forest, such as wood chips, may be called sustainable.
If you were to vote for a halt to using biomass directly from the forest, so-called primary biomass, for heat energy, we will have very big problems in the north.
Where will we then get heat from?
How will we then survive our winters?
How will hundreds of thousands of households manage to survive in the cold?
Some heating plants that burn wood chips cannot technically even be converted to other fuels.
The basis for all Swedish forestry operations is to create long-lasting products from wood. That is, large fine straight trunks that can be used for building houses, floors, balconies, verandas. In this production, there are by-products such as branches and treetops, as well as smaller trees that need to be removed over time to give more air and light to the nice straight trees.
This biomass, the by-products, can be used to create much needed heat and electricity.
It can also be left on the forest floor, but then it will cover the ground and prevent other vegetation that also needs to thrive to contribute to a richer biological diversity on the site.
Over time, the biomass, if left behind, will break down and release carbon dioxide.
When it is burned to create heat and electricity, it also emits carbon dioxide. It is the same carbon dioxide that leaves this biomass.
It is therefore efficient and sustainable to use this biomass for energy when it makes its way through our heating plants.
It has been concerns about biodiversity. But it is not in dry residues from felling, such as branches and tops and very small trees, that insects and beetles settle.
They want larger logs that can collect liquid and rot slowly.
The forestry industry has long taken this into account by leaving high stumps when felling, which are allowed to slowly rot and become home to insects and fungi.
There have also been concerns about the forest soil losing nutrients when branches and tops are removed. But the nutrition is not in the branches but in the needles and they dry and fall off before this biomass leaves the forest.
We ask you to think of us, municipalities in the EU's Arctic region, and completely remove the artificial division between primary and secondary biomass in the Renewables Directive, RED III, which you will vote on soon.
According to that division, only secondary biomass from side streams from industry, such as sawdust and bark, may be used for heat energy and be called sustainable.
The effect then may be that no one dares to invest in facilities for energy from wood chips and by-products from forests because they are labeled as unsustainable.
This would increase the general energy shortage and fossil energy dependency that we currently have in the EU.
Residual products from our forestry are, in our view, as sustainable as the forestry they come from. They smell good, they are renewable, and it's not about oil and gas. We live with nature and nature warms us.
We are therefore asking you for legislation that works for us in the Arctic region.''
Read the article in Politico here.
Read about EFNS' position on REPowerEU here.
Find the adopted text by the European Parliament here.
Read about the adopted proposal here.