Scientific Case for Wood Bioenergy Grows Stronger

The verdict is in—again: Climate change mitigation cannot be achieved without wood bioenergy and sustainable forest management.
By Seth Ginther | September 30, 2019

The verdict is in—again: Climate change mitigation cannot be achieved without wood bioenergy and sustainable forest management. This is according to the latest report on Climate Change and Land from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report unambiguously calls for “sustainable management of global land resources, including promoting forest management that is aimed at storing carbon while yielding timber, fiber and bioenergy.”  

The truth is, the IPCC has long supported the role that bioenergy can play in climate change, both as a low-carbon source of power and heat, but also as a contributor to afforestation, reforestation and conservation. The latest report goes a step further and doubles down on this idea, stating that bioenergy is a critical and necessary component to mitigating climate change and to keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (C).

The 2019 report states, “All assessed models and pathways that limit warming to 1.5 degrees or well below 2 degrees require land-based mitigation and land-use change, with most including different combinations of reforestation, afforestation, reduced deforestation, and bioenergy.” These are all areas where the wood bioenergy sector can make positive contributions.

The report further indicates that not only do we need bioenergy, we will need “substantial deployment of bioenergy technologies” to achieve our climate goals. One of those technologies is carbon capture technology with bioenergy (BECCS), deemed a critical component to making significant reductions to carbon emissions. The report supports the biogenic carbon cycle and acknowledges that negative carbon emissions can be achieved by adding carbon capture and storage systems to bioenergy facilities. 

With such wide-ranging support from the IPCC for sustainable forestry and bioenergy, it’s hard to understand why many environmental groups continue to attack our industry. Claims that wood bioenergy destroys forests and pumps more carbon into the atmosphere than the coal it displaces persist. This report makes abundantly clear just how out of step these environmental NGOs are with the scientific consensus on wood bioenergy.  

The climate issue is rife with disagreement and controversy. Nevertheless, there is near-universal agreement that we should let science dictate policy and guide our debates. It is unfortunate that despite the availability of internationally agreed-upon findings on wood biomass, many ENGOs try to promote their own “science” instead, which lacks seriousness and credibility.

For example, photo collages of clearclutting are branded as reports, and try to pass as evidence the forest is being destroyed. Never mind the fact that forest inventories have doubled since the 1950s and continue to rise. “Research” is produced based on assumptions that rarely occur on the ground—that an entire plot of forest is harvested solely for bioenergy. In reality, wood bioenergy only accounts for about 3 percent of the entire annual harvest in the U.S. Southeast.   
Thankfully, we have the IPCC to offer reliable scientific information. Formed more than 30 years ago by the United Nations, it was created as an autonomous body charged with producing reports and providing recommendations based on the latest research from leading scientists. Today, the IPCC is widely viewed as the world’s preeminent authority on climate science.

The latest IPCC report took two years to produce, and represents the consensus of over 100 scientists who studied more than 7,000 research papers. The findings remain consistent with previous IPCC reports in supporting sustainable forestry and wood bioenergy as necessary tools for climate mitigation.  

The verdict is in—again—and the consensus on wood bioenergy is even stronger. It’s time to move forward with climate solutions recommended by the world’s foremost experts.

Author: Seth Ginther
Executive Director, U.S. Industrial Pellet Association
[email protected]