Researchers have warned that the limited extent of forests and farmland in Europe may make it impossible to meet rising demand for bioenergy without damaging the environment. Applying strict rules, such as preventing the removal of residues and stumps from poor soil, would reduce the potential volume of biomass available in Europe by 30%, according to the International Institute for Sustainability Analysis and Strategy.
Higher demand for forest biomass means imports, which are only partially regulated by the EU, are likely to increase almost seven-fold between 2010 and 2030, it added.
A second study by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) concluded there is little 'spare' land in Europe on which to grow energy crops – enough to contribute only around 0.5-1% of current road transport energy consumption or 0.5% of the EU's total final energy consumption if the crops were used for heat.
In another report issued in 2012, the IEEP raised the alarm over the “flawed assumption” that energy production from biomass is carbon neutral.
Speaking at a biomass conference earlier this month, a European Commission official said the EU executive may bring forward sustainability criteria for the period after 2020 once the new EU climate and energy policy framework has been finalised.
Environmental groups Birdlife, EEB and T&E, which commissioned the two studies, insist they clearly show the need for new environmental safeguards.
“Current policies will lead to a significant increase in pressure on European and world forests, unless the potential of resources such as industrial and harvesting residues and wood from landscape care are fully mobilised, something which is highly unlikely without specific incentives,” the NGOs said in a joint statement