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Climate & Energy
Institute advises E.U. on sustainability of wood pellets from Southeast U.S.
Aug 24, 2016

Driven by climate and energy policies, European power plants are being fueled by wood pellets imported from the Coastal Plain of the Southeast U.S., a region known for its globally significant biodiversity, carbon storing capacity, and contributions to the international forest economy. The Pinchot Institute is the lead author of a new report tendered by the European Commission to evaluate the environmental effects of this increasing demand and inform the policy debate concerning the role of bioenergy in E.U. climate and energy policies.

 The forests of the Southeast U.S. are remarkable for many reasons—their productivity, exceptional biodiversity, carbon storage capacity, and their role in the global forest economy. Spurred on by increased demand from Europe, the industrial wood pellet export industry in the Southeast U.S. has emerged as the largest new segment of North America’s forest industry, just as questions about its sustainability have mounted.

Facing increased public scrutiny, the Directorate-General for Environment of the European Commission called for a study on the environmental effects of European reliance on wood pellets imported from the U.S. to aid in the updating of climate and energy policies supporting Europe’s contributions to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. In carrying out this work the goal of the Pinchot Institute is to bring clarity to decisions that will impact forests, people, and the climate for decades to come.

Our study examines the potential for an array of adverse environmental effects including forest type conversion (natural to plantation), intensification of forest management and harvesting, increased pressure on forests of high biodiversity value, and the potential for displacement of existing wood users. Possible indirect impacts include contributions to negative biodiversity and greenhouse gas outcomes. A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and North Carolina State University reached similar conclusions regarding risks to biodiversity and important forest habitats.

Likely the most comprehensive look at these issues to date, our study examines: the wood sourcing programs of the bioenergy industry; environmental policies governing forest management and use in the Southeast U.S.; economic trends of the region’s forest economy, as well as related impacts to forest resources and land use; initial impacts from the first few years of the pellet export industry; the potential for environmental effects tied to further expansion of the Southeast bioenergy sector; and the effectiveness of policy interventions being considered by the E.U. as means to address environmental risks.

As an organization committed to open and transparent policy dialogue and to maximizing the forest sector's contributions to reducing the harm of climate change, we believe this work can enable an honest appraisal of European climate and energy policies.

For a brief review of the report see: http://www.climatecentral.org/news/europe-aims-to-close-loophole-on-wood-energy-20591

A copy of the report can be downloaded at: http://bookshop.europa.eu/en/environmental-implications-of-increased-reliance-of-the-eu-on-biomass-from-the-south-east-us-pbKH0116687/?CatalogCategoryID=DSoKABstDacAAAEjA5EY4e5L
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