COP26 Should Not Ignore Devastation from Biomass

As the United Kingdom hosts COP26, we must not overlook the U.K.’s heavy reliance on the biomass industry for the satisfaction of its energy needs and its mischaracterization of related emissions as “carbon neutral.”

To satisfy increasing demand from Europe and Asia for wood pellets to use as a “clean” or “renewable” energy source, the United States has lost more than one million acres of forests. The largely unregulated wood pellet industry is clearcutting wetlands and coastal hardwood forests across southern states from North Carolina to Mississippi to help the U.K. replace coal plants with biomass plants. Although biomass has sometimes been regarded as a green or renewable fuel, the science proves otherwise: wood pellet combustion is an overall net negative for the environment, and the carbon footprint of its production and transport contributes to global warming.

Studies have found that burning wood pellets emits 10 to 15 percent more carbon dioxide than coal, and that planting new trees in place of the destroyed forests is not a satisfactory solution for offsetting the daily emissions produced by the biomass industry. Furthermore, the pollution and habitat destruction caused by clearcutting forests and wetlands has proven to be especially harmful to vulnerable communities in the southeastern United States.

Drax, headquartered in the U.K., consumes more wood pellets for energy than any other power station in the world and has continuously received hundreds of millions of dollars in government subsidies for the use of wood pellets that originate primarily from forests in the United States. It is deeply concerning to see the U.K. government continue to provide subsidies to a private company that is a significant contributor to climate change, despite a 2019 declaration by Parliament of a Climate Emergency.

The Moore Charitable Foundation (MCF) strongly supports curbing the expansion of the wood pellet industry, and is advocating to protect impacted communities and precious old-growth forests where wood pellet plants contribute to major and often unregulated environmental problems affecting air and rivers. MCF works with nonprofits such as ClientEarth, Dogwood Alliance, and Natural Resources Defense Council to safeguard America’s southern forests from the biomass industry.