Potential revisions to EU biomass rules remain a work in progress

By Jessica Marcus, vice president, policy and operations, U.S. Industrial Pellet Association | May 24, 2022

At a time when Europe needs as much affordable, sustainable and secure energy as possible, last week’s vote by the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee to limit the use of biomass makes little sense. Most troubling is the move to ban the use of “primary biomass,” meaning biomass sourced directly from forests. This would effectively disqualify up to 50 percent of the feedstock used to produce sustainable biomass, and eliminate 20 percent of Europe’s renewable energy use.  

Should this misguided and unnecessary provision ultimately become law, it would deal a severe blow to the EU’s ability to achieve energy security, and outright kill any chance of meeting its ambitious climate targets. The good news is that the vote represents the views of a single faction of Parliament, and any changes to existing biomass rules remain far from certain as the political process moves forward.  

The EU is currently working on revisions of its climate, energy and transport-related legislation under the so-called “Fit for 55 package” in order to align existing laws with its 2030 and 2050 climate ambitions. This larger initiative triggered a review of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED), and with it an assessment of the sustainability criteria for the use of biomass.

Ultimately, any changes to biomass rules won’t be determined until well into 2023 as we are still in the early stages of the process. Parliament’s position will be finalized during a plenary vote this fall. In the meantime, further negotiations will take place between MEPs as the ITRE Committee now takes up the file. Simultaneously, the European Council is working toward its own position on RED.

Once the positions of Parliament and Council have been established, they will then join the European Commission for a Trialogue, where the three bodies work together to decide conclusively what revisions should, and should not, be made to RED. This negotiation is not expected to commence until early next year.

While it’s concerning to see any momentum to unnecessarily restrict the use of biomass, today’s vote was close with 45 MEPs in favor, 36 against and 6 abstentions. This shows a weak consensus behind amendments to limit biomass use, and foreshadows the challenges these proposals will face during ongoing negotiations.  

Biomass has been a cornerstone of the EU’s climate progress to date. It has displaced millions of tons of fossil fuels – mainly coal. It supplies heat to 50 million homes and generates 40 gigawatts of reliable power, enabling the expansion of intermittent wind and solar. And yet, all leading models – including the European Commission’s own analysis – show its use must at least double in order to reach climate neutrality by 2050.

At the same time, our members continue to demonstrate that biomass can be sourced in compliance with the EU’s already strict sustainability criteria, and in a way that provides a positive impact for the environment, climate and local communities.   

The case for biomass is stronger than ever, and the process to review its role in the EU’s energy transition is just getting started. We are confident the EU will continue its long-standing recognition of biomass as an essential climate solution, and support its much-needed expansion to achieve the climate ambitions we all share.