Sustainability of wood biomass used in bioenergy production

At the end of 2016, the European Commission published the so-called “Winter Package,” which includes a proposal for a renewable energy directive. So that the production of bio-based energy would proceed in a sustainable manner, the Commission proposes the expansion of sustainability criteria to cover not only liquid biofuels but also the production of electricity and heat from solid and gaseous biofuels. The Finnish forest industry considers it important that sustainable forest management be viewed comprehensively and it emphasises that existing, legally-binding and voluntary instruments be fully utilised in demonstrating the sustainability of wood-based biomass.

In the Commission’s renewable energy directive proposal, forest-based biomass has been separated from agricultural biomass into its own category. This means that the same criteria apply to forest biomass whether it is used to produce electricity, heat, or fuel for vehicles.

Sustainability is assessed in two phases – it begins at the state level taking into consideration the forest and environmental legislation in the country where biomass is procured, as well as state level inventory methods. If sustainability cannot be demonstrated at the state level, the assessment must be carried out at a lower level. In such cases it is possible to use voluntary market-driven certification systems, if they meet the requirements set out by the Commission. In addition to the sustainability of biomass production, we must ensure that greenhouse gas emissions decrease sufficiently in relation to fossil fuels.

The Commission’s renewable energy directive proposal is currently being handled by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The trilogue negotiations between the Commission, Council, and Parliament are expected to begin at the end of 2017, thus the final structure of the directive will likely be resolved during the course of 2018.

The Finnish forest industry thinks bioenergy sustainability policy should, for its part, promote a societal shift towards the bioeconomy and circular economy. Sustainability policy must not weaken the competitiveness of players that use renewable resources compared to industries that use non-renewable raw materials or compared to third countries. Sustainability must be assessed using existing tools (legally-binding and voluntary) to their full extent so as to avoid an increase in administrative burdens on operators.

Additional information

Karoliina Niemi

Manager, EU forest affairs

+358 50 567 9093