Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

EON's biofuel power station in Lockerbie, Scotland with timber supplies. The power station is fueled 100% by wood sourced from local woodlands.

EON's biofuel power station in Lockerbie, Scotland with timber supplies. The power station is fueled 100% by wood sourced from local woodlands. (Photo: Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)

500+ Scientists Demand Stop to Tree Burning as Climate Solution

"Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming."

Andrea Germanos

A group of over 500 international scientists on Thursday urged world leaders to end policies that prop up the burning of trees for energy because it poses "a double climate problem" that threatens forests' biodiversity and efforts to stem the planet's ecological emergency.

The demand came in a letter addressed to European Commission President Urusla Von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The signatories—including renowned botanist Dr. Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden—reject the assertion that burning biomass is carbon neutral.

Referring to forest "preservation and restoration" as key in meeting the nations' declared goals of carbon neutrality by 2050, the letter frames the slashing of trees for bioenergy as "misguided."

"We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world's biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy," the group wrote.

The destruction of forests, which are a carbon sink, creates a "carbon debt." And though regrowing "trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this carbon debt," the signatories say that "regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change."

"Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity."
—Letter from 500+ Scientists
What's more, burning trees is "carbon-inefficient," they say. "Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels."

Another issue is that efforts using taxpayer money to sustain biomass burning stymies what are truly renewable energy policies.

"Government subsidies for burning wood create a double climate problem because this false solution is replacing real carbon reductions," the letter states. "Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming."

The letter denounces as further troubling proposals to burn palm oil and soybean, which would entail further deforestation to make way for palm and soy crops.

Merely making countries responsible for the emissions that stem from land use changes is insufficient, the scientists write, because that would "not alter the incentives created by [national] laws for power plants and factories to burn wood."

As such, the letter calls on governments to end measures including subsidies that advance the burning of biomass. More specifically, the group writes:

The European Union needs to stop treating the burning of biomass as carbon neutral in its renewable energy standards and in its emissions trading system. Japan needs to stop subsidizing power plants to burn wood. And the United States needs to avoid treating biomass as carbon neutral or low carbon as the new administration crafts climate rules and creates incentives to reduce global warming.

Simply put, "Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity," the letter states.

The letter was released after groups including WWF urged the European Commission to change the Renewable Energy Directive so that the law would not classify as carbon neutral, and thus not subsidize, the burning of trees and crops for energy. The advocacy groups asked people to sign onto a petition by February 9 to "help end this madness."

"Fighting the climate emergency without changing the EU’s biomass rules is like trying to bail out a boat with a hole in the bottom," Alex Mason, senior policy officer at WWF's European Policy Office, said in a statement Thursday.

"The revision of the EU renewables law is a crucial chance; the Commission must listen to scientists and citizens and stop trees being burned in the name of the climate," said Mason.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Omar Leads Charge Against Baby Formula Monopolies Amid US Shortage

Democrats urge the FTC to probe "any unfair or unsustainable practices, like deceptive marketing, price gouging, and stock buybacks, that may be weakening our nutritional formula supply."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Arbitrary, Racist, and Unfair': Judge Blocks Biden From Ending Title 42

"Only the coyotes profiteering off of people seeking protection have reason to celebrate this ill-reasoned ruling," said one migrant rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


'This Is a War' for Democratic Party's Future, Says Sanders of AIPAC's Super PAC

"They are doing everything they can to destroy the progressive movement in this country," said the senator.

Julia Conley ·


Ginni Thomas Pressed Arizona Lawmakers to Reverse Biden's 2020 Win: Report

"Clarence Thomas' continued service on the Supreme Court is a scandalous and appalling breach of judicial ethics," said one observer. "He is implementing the exact same theories that his wife used to try to steal the 2020 election for Trump."

Brett Wilkins ·


Millions More Kids Going Hungry Since GOP, Manchin Killed Expanded Child Tax Credit

"Even brief disruptions in access to food can have lasting consequences," wrote the authors of a new analysis of worsening hunger among U.S. families.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo