July 9, 2024

FLC’s guidance for implementing the RED’s biomass criteria published

See the guide here.

The revision of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (“RED3”) entered into force on 20 November 2023, and Member States are required to implement it into national legislation by 21 May 2025.

The purpose of the FLC’s guide is to examine the main provisions of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (“RED”) that pertain to forest biomass and explain how advocates (NGOs, litigators, concerned citizens, and policymakers) can work to make those provisions maximally effective, including suggestions for how Member States should interpret and transpose RED provisions into their own legislation.

Overview of the forest biomass criteria
At their most basic, the biomass criteria determine what types of biomass qualify for the “purposes” of the RED. Listed in Art. 29(1), those purposes are central: counting toward the renewable energy shares of Member States and various targets; measuring compliance with renewable energy obligations; and being eligible for financial support. It is important to note that the RED criteria apply not only to facilities burning biomass, but also facilities producing biomass.

The criteria pertaining to forest biomass are supposed to protect forests and the climate from the main impacts of harvesting wood for energy, but the RED2 criteria were mostly ineffective, allowing clearcutting of even the most irreplaceable forests, and doing nothing to ensure that biomass delivers “high greenhouse gas emissions savings compared to fossil fuel alternatives”, as promised at Recital 101 of the RED.

The new criteria added by RED3 do nothing to limit net CO2 emissions of biomass, much less deliver “carbon neutral” biomass, but they do have the potential to limit biomass harvesting in certain ecosystems and limit financial support for bioenergy, if they are fully implemented and enforced.

Approach and scope of the guide
This guide draws on the three main documents – RED2, RED3, and the IR – to explain what the forest biomass provisions mean and how they should be interpreted to ensure that they are as effective as possible. It discusses four main sets of provisions:

  1. The financial support criteria (Arts. 3, 15c, 29(15))
  2. The harvesting and sourcing criteria (Art. 29 (3)-(6))
  3. The LULUCF (“land”) criteria (Art. 29(7))
  4. The verification and monitoring rules, selected parts (Art. 30)

It does not consider the greenhouse gas criteria (Art. 29(10)) or the efficiency criteria for biomass energy plants (Art. 29(11)).

For each set of provisions, it provides a plain-language summary, the relevant text from the Directive, and an overview of how the provisions should be implemented, including how advocates can influence implementation. Throughout, it uses red arrows () to call attention to recommendations and key information for advocates.

About half the wood harvested in the EU is burned for energy. The forest and climate impacts of harvesting and burning forest wood for fuel have been covered extensively elsewhere, so the guide does not discuss these impacts. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the European Commission is now acknowledging that CO2 removal from the atmosphere by forests has “declined at a worrying speed in recent years” and that “This trend is mostly due to a decrease in forest related removals, triggered mainly by an increase in harvesting.” The European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change also notes the major impact of biomass harvesting on the land carbon sink, stating that it is “highly unlikely” that the EU can achieve its LULUCF objectives for 2030 and 2050 “without major and immediate changes to current forest management practices” and that reducing harvesting is “one of the rare options to maintain or increase forest carbon sinks in the short to medium term.”

Call to action
Advocates worked to remove forest biomass from the revised RED, arguing that logging and burning forests for fuel is undermining climate and nature goals. Reforms added in RED3 did not go far enough but do represent some progress. Because the RED3 criteria are not required to be implemented until May 2025, advocates can work for rigorous interpretation and transposition into national legislation in the meantime. Importantly, this could include asking Member States to enact wholly new sustainability criteria, as allowed under RED2 Art. 29(14), which states “For the purposes referred to in points (a), (b) and (c) of the first subparagraph of paragraph 1, Member States may establish additional sustainability criteria for biomass fuels.”

Despite the fundamental weakness of EU legislation on biomass, if advocates work together to ensure strong interpretation and transposition of RED3 and take action to ensure robust enforcement of the criteria, this will only help to protect forests and the climate.

See the guide here.