Kate on Conservation

The hidden truth behind the UK’s tree-planting hypocrisy

cut carbon not forests - burning trees infographic

The campaign group ‘Cut Carbon Not Forests’ has shared a new infographic that tells the story of the UK government’s hypocrisy on forest conservation and climate — showing that right now, trees need our voices.

Cut Carbon Not Forests is a hard-hitting campaign from a coalition of environmental advocacy groups to expose the UK’s wasteful subsidies for companies that burn trees for electricity and to put pressure on policymakers to support reform.

The multi-channel group, led jointly by Biofuelwatch, Dogwood Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Environmental Law Centre, calls for an end to biomass burning subsidies, redirecting billions of pounds to fill a “critical funding gap” for other renewable energy solutions, such as wind and solar.

Watch the infographic below…

According to the coalition, the UK is the largest user of biomass electricity in Europe, backed by more than £1 billion (€1.1 billion) per year in government subsidies, paid out via a fee on energy bills. The group says burning wood in power stations is “no better for the climate than burning coal”.

Cut Carbon Not Forests’ new infographic contrasts the area of forest the government pledges to plant with trees as part of its “Nature for Climate” fund with the area of forest that will need to be cut down over the same period to supply the UK’s massive demand for wood to burn as fuel for electricity.

A call for action to help our trees

A recent YouGov polling regarding public attitudes in the UK about biomass energy showed that fewer than one in four Britons (23%) think electricity generated by burning wood from forests should be classified as renewable energy, while large majorities (upwards of 80%) back the Government supporting wind and solar energy.

85% of respondents worried about the impact on wildlife if trees in forests are being cut down to generate electricity – the largest result in the survey.

And as the COVID-19 lockdown has been eased, 82% of respondents also agree that the UK should aim to preserve improvements in air quality by switching to energy sources with no associated air pollution emissions. Burning biomass from forests of course releases dangerous air pollution like particulate matter, in addition to climate pollution.

Cut Carbon Not Forests, is rallying constituents to contact their Member of Parliament and press for an end to subsidies.

Their campaign’s call to action urging MPs to redirect billions in biomass subsidies to real clean and renewable energy like solar and wind can be found here.

In cases of direct action, activists have also begun lining the train tracks carrying wood pellets to the Drax plant, a sign of defiance against this dirty energy.

Undermining environmental conservation and climate goals

The Environmental Audit Committee recently completed a call for evidence on biodiversity and ecosystems, seeking input on how it can better integrate and enhance its efforts to address biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development.

These are laudable goals. But the UK government’s tree planting and international forest conservation efforts are dwarfed each year by the scale of harmful subsidies that it continues to give energy companies that import wood from overseas forests to burn for electricity under the guise of generating renewable energy.

This is not only wasteful financially, but counterproductive to environmental conservation and climate goals. Consider the following:

  • Per her response to a question tabled by Rosie Cooper MP regarding native tree planting, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that, in the 2020 Budget Statement, the government announced a £640m “Nature for Climate fund” for England. According to the announcement, this would mean an additional 30,000 hectares of trees (roughly 300 square kilometers), “a forest larger than Birmingham,” over the next five years.

However, in 2019, wood pellet sourcing for Drax’s coal-to-biomass conversions at Drax Power Station alone required sourcing of over 7 million tonnes of wood pellet, roughly 4.5 million tonnes of which were sourced from forests in the southern United States.

Supplying this demand required the harvesting of approximately 340 square kilometres of forests in the region. At this level, five years of supply thus requires 1,700 square kilometers of harvesting, equal to six times the area the UK intends to plant via the “nature for climate fund.” And again, Drax actually imported more than 1.5 times that from all sources in 2019, so the total forest harvest impact is actually much greater.

  • And finally, per the response Ms Cooper received from the Secretary of State for International Development, DFID reports that it has invested £57.2 million (2017-18), £53.1 million (2018-19) and £50.8 million (2019-20) in bilateral forest programmes over the past three years. This means the UK’s annual overseas forest conservation funding is less than 4% of what it spends to subsidise importing wood from overseas forests to be burnt for energy each year.

Taken together, it’s clear that billions in UK biomass subsidies crowd out other efforts at forest conservation.

Burning trees

Biomass subsidies support the harvest and burning of vast quantities of trees from ecologically sensitive forests all around the world for electricity, contributing to their degradation and endangering the wildlife that depend on them.

Putting an end to once and for all to the UK’s damaging legacy of reliance on biomass electricity is critical to helping reverse the biodiversity crisis and must be at the core of how the UK bolsters its conservation policies and invests in a truly green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s at stake here is upwards of £1 billion per year, currently paid to companies that burn trees for electricity, but fully at the Government’s discretion to phase out and reinvest in real climate and conservation solutions.

Learn more about Cut Carbon Not Forests here.

Like this post? Discover The Woodland Trust’s Big Climate Fightback to help trees

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