Is wood a carbon-neutral energy source?
In February 2017, Chatham House published Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate, by Duncan Brack. The report argues that policies promoting wood for renewable energy production are based on the flawed assumption that wood is a carbon-neutral energy source. In fact, as reported, emissions from wood burning may be higher than the fossil fuels replaced.
Biomass in general emits more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels. EU policies do not account for the emissions from bioenergy in the energy sector, because it is assumed that these emissions are accounted for at the point of harvest in the land use sector. However, whether these emissions can be recuperated by future growth of biomass is not only uncertain, but often unlikely. The report finds that part of the emissions may never be accounted for, such as when EU countries use biomass imported from the United States.
Policies must distinguish between different types of feedstock
The report, in line with earlier recommendations by environmental groups, proposes that policies clearly distinguish between different types of feedstock and provide support only to those which reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term, taking into account changes in forest carbon stocks. With regard to wood harvesting, only residues that would otherwise have been burnt as waste or would have been left in the forest and decayed rapidly can be considered to be carbon-neutral over the short to medium term.