Forests and not biomass needed in fight against Climate Change

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) is very concerned about the development of a series of biomass-fired plants that will increase the UK’s timber imports to 50 million tonnes by 2015.

The same concern certainly is being shared also by the Romani Forester's Association and, I should think, many foresters and forest scientists, and especially the forest keepers.

Scientists have warned that without measures to keep forests intact, we stand no chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Every hour, 2,500 hectares of rainforest are lost to deforestation, causing an estimated 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It is expected that deforestation will continue as underlying pressures intensify, with growing population and consumption pushing the demand for food and energy up by 50 percent by 2030.

And it is not only rainforests that are being cleared at a rate of knots. The same fate befalls the boreal forests and general temperate ones, especially in Canada, where the likes of Kimberly Clark are clear felling thousands of acres every month for pulp for the production of toilet paper and paper towels. There is a standing joke that says that the world wipes its behind on Canada. No trees are being replanted after those operation s and we do not want to even talk about the millions of acres of forest that was destroyed in the attempt to get at the Alberta Tar Sands.

In the CIWEM’s recently published Manifesto, Fitting the Bill, the Institution called for the Government to ensure that its own policies do not accelerate deforestation. The CIWEM is concerned that the move towards biomass-fired plants does not show any political will to stem forest loss, nor does it seem to consider the carbon emissions involved in shipping the wood such large distances.

In the UK we have also experienced a shortage, during the winter of 2008/2009, of firewood, as many people who could went back to wood burning, primarily for financial reasons, and merchants of firewood had to go as far as Poland and the Ukraine to source wood. This is not sustainable and neither is firing UK biomass power stations with imported materials.

The CIWEM supports the Wood Panel Industry Federation in its lobbying for the biomass industry to be given extra incentives to use waste wood instead of virgin timber for fuel. The CIWEM also demands that the Government enforces a requirement that imported timber products are only from legal and sustainable sources. A recent report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee suggested that the UK is currently one of the world’s largest importers of illegal timber and timber products. And, perhaps most importantly, the Institution also believes that radical changes are needed in the way we use and waste energy in order to become a truly low carbon society.

Nick Reeves, Executive Director of CIWEM says: “We need a new approach to energy use that is rooted in environmental sustainability. The UK’s accessible offshore wind resource is potentially among the greatest in the world and we also has very significant tidal and wave resources. So the moral, ethical and environmental case for importing timber to burn in UK power stations deserves forensic examination. It is beggars belief that more is not being done to better manage our demand for energy through retrofitting of energy saving devices and reducing our consumption of ‘stuff’. Instead we seem set to pillage our forests to feed our hunger for economic development, with little regard for the value they provide in the fight against climate change. Cutting our need for trees for energy is where the UK must focus its efforts.”

The British building industry alone produces more than ten million metric tonnes of waste lumber each and every year than all, presently, ends up in landfill site and the government, at great expense of a study, recently discovered – that is how they announced in their press releases – that one can burn that wood. However, an other expensive study, so we have been told, will be required, lasting up to five years, to research as to whether this wood could be burned in power stations.

There is no need for any such study research – any person with common sense can tell them that – for any power station that currently burns coal can burn wood. It is as simple as that and not rocket science. But, I guess, the study is another job for the boys; for some of those people that some of the politicians are consultants to.

© 2009