Burning trees for energy puts Canadian forests and climate at risk: Greenpeace

Feature story - November 2, 2011
Greenpeace released a science-based report today that highlights the dangers of the large-scale use of wood and tree harvesting for heating, electricity generation or liquid biofuels. The report, entitled ‘Fuelling a Biomess’, argues that burning woody biomass on an industrial scale could severely harm Canada’s public forests and further contribute to the global climate crisis.

“Forest bioenergy, as it is currently being developed in Canada threatens the health of our forests and will harm the global climate for decades to come,” said Nicolas Mainville, Greenpeace Canada forest campaigner. “The amount of wood being burnt in power plants or turned into liquid fuels is growing exponentially without the public's knowledge and little government oversight or regulation.”

The report, based on recent peer-reviewed scientific literature, challenges the claims that simply burning forest biomass is green, clean and carbon-neutral – claims upon which the current bioenergy boom is based. The demand for biomass can no longer be met by traditional waste stream sources - the bark, sawdust and other residues from pulp and paper plants or sawmills.


In some jurisdictions, forest biomass is increasingly consisting of elements essential to functioning forest ecosystems, including standing trees, naturally disturbed forests and remains of traditional logging operations that were previously left in the forest. The amount of wood and other tree parts cut from Canadian public forests could more than double under new policies that support the expansion of forest bioenergy production.

Greenpeace is concerned that the growing demand for trees associated with the bioenergy boom will drastically increase pressure on forests and out compete the traditional forest products sector, particularly with respect to available wood supply and the development of new products and jobs.

“Using woody biomass to produce energy should be restricted to local, small-scale uses of mill residues” said Mainville. “Before we continue to approve new projects, public hearings, a full accounting of the climate and biodiversity footprint and life-cycle analyses of those projects are needed. Otherwise, we risk plunging Canada’s forests and climate into an environmental ‘bioMESS’.”

In 2010, Canada exported 1.2 million tonnes of wood pellets to Europe, resulting in a 700 per cent increase in less than eight years. Canada alone releases approximately 40 megatons of CO2 emissions annually from forest bioenergy production, an amount that exceeds the tailpipe emissions of all 2009 Canadian light-duty passenger vehicles. The CO2 emitted will harm the climate for decades before being captured by re-growing trees.

The release of the report was timed with the opening of the first European Biomass Exchange (APX-ENDEX) in Amsterdam..

Contact your provincial minister responsible for forestry and tell her/him to stop burning public forests for energy production until proper environmental standards are in place. Burning forest-based biomass on an industrial scale is bad for our forests, our health, the climate and job creation.

Download the report

Take action! Email your minister now.

Ontario: Michael Gravelle, Minister of Natural Resources,

Quebec: Clément Gignac, Ministère des Ressources Naturelles et de la Faune -

British Columbia: Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations,

Alberta: Frank Oberle, Minister of Sustainable Resource Development,

Saskatchewan: Bill Boyd, Minister of Energy and Resources,

Manitoba, Dave Chomiak, Minister of Conservation,

Newfoundland: Jerome Kennedy, Minister of Natural Resources,

Nova Scotia: Charlie Parker, Minister of Natural Resources,

New Brunswick: Bruce Northrup,

Northwest Territories: J. Michael Miltenberge, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources,

Prince Edward island: Janice Sherry, Minister of Environment, Energy and Forestry,

Yukon: Patrick Rouble, Minister of Energy, Mines & Resources,