A story of southern destruction
By Linde Zuidema
Seeing is believing, and witnessing first-hand the devastating effect that the European Union’s renewable energy policy is having on the forests and wetlands of the Southeast United States, offers overwhelming evidence of the urgent need to act.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet “clean” energy targets, the EU has pursued a policy since 2009 which massively incentivises burning woody biomass for heating and electricity. This policy is placing untenable pressure on forests, while mounting evidence shows that rather than decrease emissions, it can actually increase them.
In the South Eastern US states of North and South Carolina and Virginia the problem is particularly acute.
Here, weak forest regulations and the EU’s voracious demand for biomass, are leading to the clearances of trees, which are transported to nearby plants and turned into pellets to be shipped across the ocean and burned in European power stations. Exports of wood pellets from the US to the EU grew from 0.53 to 3.89 million tons between 2009 and 2014. Most of this is sourced from the south US.
A recent study published by the European Commission, Environmental implications of the increased reliance of the EU on biomass from the Southeast US, highlighted the possible impacts, underlining the risks to biodiversity, of deforestation and forest degradation, to resource efficiency and to greenhouse gas performance. It showed that the EU’s bioenergy demand is likely to increase the pressure on (hardwood) forests in the Southeast US.
The reality of this is clear in these photos, which show how parts of this ecologically rich and stunningly beautiful area are being transformed into bleak and desolate wastelands.
The EU is now weighing up options for how to meet its new target of drawing 27 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
As Fern has consistently argued, the EU should be focusing on real solutions to climate change, such as focusing on reducing energy demand and developing other renewables, instead of burning trees from overseas.