Largest certification program (SBP) for logging does not meet Dutch sustainability criteria

A report, today by five (inter)national environmental organizations2Biofuelwatch UK, Comite Schone Lucht NL, Leefmilieu, Dogwood Alliance VS & Estonian Fund for Nature ES, shows that the largest certification program (SBP)3SBP was founded in 2013 by seven European energy companies, including RWE. Subsequently, wood pellet companies and so- called “civil society representatives” joined the energy companies, none of whom represent a civil society organization. Originally called Sustainable Biomass Partnership, it was changed to Sustainable Biomass Program after environmental NGOs refused to join this industry initiative. The SBP automatically classifies all wood pellets produced under one of the three major forest management certification schemes – FSC, PEFC and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) as meeting SBP’s criteria. In addition, SBP certifies large quantities of wood pellets produced from forests without any forest management certification. used for logging does not meet the Dutch sustainability criteria. Certification appears to be entirely in the hands of the wood pellet industry itself. As a result, a legitimate and objective sustainability standard for biomass energy is missing. Nevertheless, the Dutch government provides billions of euros in biomass subsidies (SDE++)4Stimuleringssubsidies Duurzame Energie to energy companies on the basis of this SBP certification. Now that it appears that SBP certification is not a guarantee that the subsidy criteria are met, the Dutch government should stop subsidies for wood pellets certified by SBP and reconsider the decision to recognize SBP certification as a sustainability standard, according to the environmental organizations .

Crucial moment
The results come at a crucial time, namely ahead of three events that will determine the future approach to biomass combustion over the next 5-15 years; 1) European adoption of the new sustainability directive in the final trilogues on February; 2) Dutch parliamentary hearing on subsidies for biomass energy on February; and 3) Dutch adoption of the sustainability framework for biomass this spring, by Rob Jetten, Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate

The investigation revealed, among other things, a lack of proper investigation of claims made by pellet producers and sources of information provided by them. For example, Enviva, the world’s largest timber producer in the US, claims that “forestry and clear-cutting” of forests rich in wildlife has “ecological benefits”. The certifier (SCS Global) uncritically accepted Enviva’s claim despite strong evidence to the contrary. In addition, there is evidence of inconsistent interpretation of evidence by certifiers: the regional risk assessments for Latvia and Estonia, both conducted by Preferred by Nature, contradict each other regarding the impact of logging on forest birds. In the case of Latvia, logging is classified as a risk to forest bird species. In the case of neighboring Estonia, some of the same forest bird species are not considered to be at risk from logging.

Under the current certification, it is assumed that the carbon storage (‘sink’) of forests will remain sufficient, regardless of the extent of forest and clear-cutting. Even when forests (as in Estonia) have recently become a net source of carbon emissions. This is done by relying on models of future tree growth, despite the fact that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that we do not have decades left to reduce carbon emissions for climate stabilization. Burning wood pellets in large power stations is only possible thanks to generous subsidies for sustainable energy under the Dutch SDE++. To be eligible for these subsidies, the wood must meet a number of SDE++ sustainability and greenhouse gas requirements. Since the end of 2019, all pellets certified by the Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) automatically meet those criteria.

The Dutch import of wood pellets has increased more than eightfold between 2017 and 2020. This is partly because RWE, Uniper and Onyx have increased the co-firing of biomass in their coal-fired power stations. Currently, the vast majority of those pellets come from the Southeastern US, but significant amounts are also imported from the Baltic states.

There is no evidence that any kind of biomass energy sustainability standard has ever been effective in preventing serious damage to forests, wildlife, climate and communities. However, SBP stands out as being particularly biased in favor of the companies using its certification. Dutch recognition of SBP certificates renders the entire Dutch biomass certification scheme meaningless

Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch UK, Head author of the report

Now that it appears that SBP certification is not a guarantee that the subsidy criteria are met, the Dutch government should stop subsidies for wood pellets certified by SBP and reconsider the decision to recognize SBP certification as a sustainability standard in the forthcoming Dutch sustainability framework

Fenna Swart, Clean Air Committee – NL

Verification of internationally traded biomass largely depends on paper administration by suppliers and energy companies. This opens up the potential for fraud such as the possible fraudulent use of contaminated waste wood in Dutch biomass plants which is currently under investigation by the Dutch authorities

Maarten Visschers, Environment – NL

SBP certification is underperforming due to the illusion of nature-friendly procurement. This while SBP is not taking any measures to address the cumulative effects of increasing industrial forest management. It also falls short on subjects where SBP apparently wants to regulate effects

Siim Kuresoo, Estonian Fund for Nature – ES

For many years, Enviva has documented how it has sourced wood from clear-cut coastal hardwood forests without regard for wildlife or climate or the communities whose health is being harmed by Enviva pellet choppers. SBP’s only goal seems to be to give such pellets access to markets at home and abroad

Rita Frost, Dogwood Alliance – USA

Contact Press & Media
Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch +44 131 6232600
Fenna Swart, Clean Air Committee – +31 6 415 14 330
Maarten Visschers, Leefmilieu +31 6 344 28 154