The Netherlands is considering whether to reform its policies of burning forest biomass under the claim that it is low carbon or carbon neutral. A recent report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency recommended that the Netherlands continue to rely on wood so long as it is of pulp-quality, which typically means logs the length of a long truck and up to around 9 inches in diameter. The report's major argument is that this quality of wood is in effect carbon free because it could be diverted to wood pellets for energy use but would not be replaced by harvesting additional wood. It is supposed to be carbon-free in the way that one person's use of a gallon of gas would be free if that meant another person used one gallon less.
However, pulp-qualiity wood is the wood used for all paper products, cardboard and contributes to particle boards used for furniture. The world's demand for pulpwood grew 68% between 1997 and 2017 and will continue to grow. In addition, although the U.S. produces 25% of the world's pulpwood, if all that pulpwood were turned into wood pellets for Europe, it would supply only 1.6% of Europe's energy demand, just 1/9 of the renewable energy European law requires to be added between 2017 and 2030. The Netherlands report in effect assumes that if Europe burns this wood, Americans will stop using toilet paper, cardboard boxes and composite furniture.
Youu can see these comments by me, William Moomaw, Mary Booth and Michael Norton to an advisory committee now considering the iissue. https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/tsearchi/files/searchinger_moomaw_booth_norton_comments_on_strenger_pbl_bioenergy_report_final_2020.pdf
The full, 566 page report, Creating a Sustainable Food Future: A Menu of Solutions to Feed Nearly 10 Billion People by 2050 is now available. The report, of which I was lead author, explores how to meet food needs in 2050 while protecting ecosystems and reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emisisons to acceptable levels, and in ways that could help to reduce poverty and not exacerbate water challenges. The report was prepared by the World Resources Institute in collaboration with the World Bank, UN Environment, the UN Development Programme, and with technical contributions from INRA and CIRAD. Some articles about the syntehsis of the report appear in the New York Times, the Guardian, and Forbes.
For an article about the effects of biodiesel on forests and peatlands in Indonesia, please take a look at Abrahm Lustgarten, Fuel to the Fire, New York Times (Novembver 25, 2018)
A technology-forcing approach to reducing nitrogen pollution, Nature Sustainability 1:544–552 (2018). Nitrogen losses from agriculture are already major sources of water and air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and will grow as food production increases by 50% or more by 2050 even if farmers improve their management. This article suggests a technology-forcing, flexible regulatory strategy to encourage fertilizer manufactureers to increase the share and effectiveness of compounds that help limit nitrogen runoff. Such compounds, known as "enhanced efficiency fertilizers" have been shown on average to increase efficiency, reduce runoff and emissions, and increase yields but they have variable results and are not extensively used. This article suggests incorporating an approached based on so-called "CAFE" standards, which have required automobile manuifacturers to increase the miles per gallon of the cars they sell over time. Requiring fertilizer manufacturers to sell more and better fertilizers over time could encourage the innovations necessary to truly alleviate nitrogen pollution. Even without fertilizer innovations, the artgicle esetimates that applying this approach to the U.S. corn sector would save millions of dollars for farmers, generate billions in overall economic savings, and cause large reductions in nitrogen losses. We suggest that governments such as those in China or California could enact these kinds of regulatory programs as part of their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution.
Europe's renewable energy directive poised to harm global forests, Nature Communications 9:3741 (2018). The European Commission has agreed this year to a renewable energy directive (RED), which will require that all countries in the European Union increase the percentage of energy that comes from renewable energy by 2030. Although this general regulation is admirable, it treats nearly all bioenergy as fully qualifying, low-carbon, renewable bioenergy including the harvest of wood from forests deliberately to burn. In January, roughly 800 scientists wrote to the European Parliament warning them that doing so would likely lead to forms of bioenergy that actually increased carbon in the atmosphere for decades compared even to using fossil fuels. This letter along with a video about the issue and other materials can be found at www.empowerplants.com. The letter encouraged the Parliament to limit this qualifying renewable energy from forest biomass to residues and wastes, but the Parliament rejected such an amendment. Eventually, negotiations with the European Commission and Council of States led to an agreed RED that also allows cutting down and burning of whole trees. This article provides an academic treatment of this issue and finds that the RED could plausibly lead Europe to burn an additional amount of wood equal to all its present wood harvest and increase greenhouse gas emissions from energy use by 10% compared to the alternative. It discuisses why the so-called sustainability criteria do not prevent this result.