Climate crisis cannot be understood without knowledge of the ecological crisis
By Fenna Swart and Maarten Visschers
Last week, one of the most profound laws of nature escaped destruction, in a draw. The opposition came from traditional lobbies for intensive agriculture, forestry and fishing, with the Netherlands in the lead. There is also a similar impasse in the agricultural agreement in The Hague. Scientists have been saying it for two decades now: we are not facing a ‘climate crisis’, we are facing an ecological crisis of which climate change and the collapse of ecosystems are the main manifestations. You can’t solve, or even understand, one without the other.
Not only reduce but also protect
Not only measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are important (so-called climate mitigation), but also measures that protect us against the consequences of the changing climate (climate adaptation). Based on current EU policies, it is likely that temperatures will continue to rise and droughts, floods and fires will become more frequent and widespread. Naturally, biodiverse forests are more resistant to such disturbances than tree plantations and planted monocultures.
Undermining the most important climate objective
The drastic decline in carbon storage in European forests is largely due to the significant increase in logging over the past decade. About half of the felled wood in the EU is burned for energy. Based on this, we can conclude that Europe’s energy dependence on biomass undermines the main climate objective of reducing emissions.
The two Brussels departments, Climate and Energy, are largely responsible for this decline as both have until recently promoted the cutting and burning of forests for renewable energy. They have also opposed the introduction of science-based limits on the use of wood burning for energy. The European Commission’s (EC) own impact assessment in 2016, and a variety of reports from the Joint Research Center (JRC, the EC’s scientific agency), have made it clear that burning wood increases net CO2 emissions in comparison with fossil fuels over time frames relevant to climate policy.
Underground storage techniques are not sustainable
Against this background and the fact that the recommendations of the JRC’s own scientists have been ignored, it is likely that the proposed consultation will not recognize that the EU’s forest and land carbon stores are collapsing. At the same time, independent research shows that subsidized programs for technological carbon removal in the form of so-called BECCS (biomass combustion with CO2 capture and underground storage) are unproven, expensive and energy-consuming. BECCS is a technology that is increasingly being referred to by energy companies such as RWE as a basis for converting coal-fired power stations to biomass, as was again evident last week from the presentation by CEO Miesen of energy company RWE, during the Biomass Round Table Discussion in the House of Representatives. (‘we are pushing emissions under the sea’).
Basic principles of the 2040 climate objective
The 2040 climate target should therefore be based on realistic practical reports instead of utopian calculation models. In addition, it is important that the assessment transparently recognizes the net carbon impact of forest biomass. To achieve climate stability, in addition to a very drastic reduction in our CO2 emissions, a significantly larger amount of carbon storage in forests is required. Under current regulations, this is impossible unless the harvesting of forest biomass is restricted.
Climate and nature; inseparable
This month, until June 24, Brussels will hold an open consultation on establishing the new climate target for 2040 and the necessary measures for this in the period 2030-2040. An important part of the European climate strategy is to protect, restore and strengthen the remaining natural and protected European forests for carbon storage. Crucial here is the recognition that the future viability of Europe (and the planet) depends to a large extent on Europe’s ability to reverse the current decline of our remaining forests. The question is whether we can make it through forest restoration alone. Even if we succeed in reducing current emissions from all sectors (industry, mobility, construction), we are still not there according to science. Forest restoration is then a minimum requirement.