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SOURCE: Monga Bay

DATE: June 19, 2019

SNIP: Last week, the United Kingdom announced plans to pass a national law setting a country-wide target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, to be achieved by 2050. The pronouncement came in response to a directive by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, that all 28 European Union nations set binding 2050 net-zero emissions reduction goals. [NOTE: the target agreement has been blocked by three countries, and so for now, has failed.]

However, some scientists and environmentalists are neither impressed nor encouraged; they are expressing deep concern that the binding emissions laws will likely be flawed by a monstrously large carbon-pollution loophole.

While the UK has pledged to burn coal for the last time by 2025, it is accelerating plans to replace that source by burning wood pellets, or biomass, in four of its six largest power plants, located in North Yorkshire and operated by Drax Power, the country’s largest utility.

While that shift would help meet the terms of the Paris Agreement, say experts, it would still pump vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, speeding and intensifying global warming.

Worrying environmentalists further: former coal-fired plants across the EU, especially in Denmark and Belgium, are also fast converting to wood pellets, encouraged by a longstanding loophole in global carbon accounting that was not closed in the writing of the Paris rulebook last December during the 24th United Nations Climate Summit in Poland.

In fact, studies show that the burning of wood pellets actually produces more heat-trapping carbon dioxide than coal, because it requires more pellets than coal to produce the same amount of energy. Yet, because wood pellets are classified by the United Nations as a renewable resource — putting the carbon-intensive energy source on equal footing with zero-carbon wind and solar energy — the biomass greenhouse emissions from Drax and other converted power plants are, and will continue to be, officially deemed carbon neutral and are not counted as emissions at all.

Nature will not be fooled by the cooked books.

Governments “will say those pellets are carbon neutral, but as many groups have tried to communicate, our issue is one of time,” explained climate expert Kelsey Perlman with Fern, a forest-and-climate advocacy group in Brussels. “Putting too much carbon into the atmosphere too quickly is going to blow up the [national carbon-reduction] targets.”

Here’s the gist of the biomass rationale, or scam, depending on one’s perspective: biomass advocates (including lobbyists in the highly influential forest products industry), say that you can cut down carbon-filled trees to burn as wood pellets, then plant new trees to absorb the carbon released from the cut and burned trees.

There is general scientific consensus around the plausibility of this approach being carbon neutral — but, say critics, not on the day the pellets are burned and when the new trees are planted.

Rather, researchers estimate it will take 50 to 100 years for saplings planted today to absorb today’s emissions, and achieve a net-neutral goal. And that all depends on whether new trees are planted at all — which isn’t required by any governing body to date.

Most importantly: achieving carbon neutrality five or ten decades out won’t help with today’s rapidly escalating climate emergency; it definitely won’t prevent rapidly rising emissions in the next 12 years, as burned wood pellets help melt polar ice, push up sea levels, and generate increasingly destructive extreme weather events just as burning fossil fuels does.

The biomass loophole “fundamentally undermines our ability to genuinely reduce emissions and increase the carbon sink [created by maintaining and restoring forests]; it’s a double whammy,” said scientist Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity in the U.S., and a leading biomass accounting expert. “If you had to come up with one idea to really undermine the progress in climate mitigation, you really can’t do better than cutting down forests and burning them.”