After being elected as the new President of Bioenergy Europe, we wanted to know from Christoph Pfemeter what Bioenergy Europe’s priorities for the months ahead will be.
- Now that you have been elected as the new President of Bioenergy Europe, what will the new priorities of Bioenergy Europe be?
The negotiations concerning the Green Deal went into the wrong direction: higher renewable energy and decarbonisation targets without an increase in the use of bioenergy will not work. Labelling fossil gas as “green” sounds like a joke. We need to bring the expansion of bioenergy back on the EU agenda.
- What are the main challenges that the wood supply chain will have to face in the short- and long-term?
In the short-term, one of the biggest challenges will be the inconsistent course of the EU, with all the burdens that the EU Commission and Parliament try to place on the forestry and bioenergy sectors. RED II is not fully implemented and for RED III we are still discussing huge changes. We need more investment in our sector instead of impractical EU regulations and uncertainties, which are only based on emotions. We need to maximise the potential of renewables and let sustainable biomass flow into the market and yet, at the same time, the EU Parliament is discussing limitations on biomass use. This would lead to shortages, volatile prices and, consequently, to cold homes and increased fossil energy use.
- Sustainable Forest Management is fundamental to guaranteeing sufficient carbon sinks and to preventing hydrogeological risks. Which actions is Bioenergy Europe going to take to raise public awareness of and to sensitize policymakers to the need for sustainable forest management practices, like tree trimming and pruning annual plans, if we want to guarantee forest health?
We have to be very clear in our messages and raise our voices on this topic: tree hugging is a nice hobby, and it may be a business model for some people and NGOs, but it is no solution to effectively fighting climate change and strengthening the health of our forests. Bioenergy is an integrated and important part of sustainable forest management – there is no doubt about that.
- Which tools does the EU have available to make clear once and for all that wood is a renewable resource?
They would need to change their current policy. We need new initiatives for using high quality wood, like the New European Bauhaus, to support construction using wood. For every tonne of solid wood we use as construction material in a building we have 6-10 tonnes of by-products (from the forest all the way to the building site) which can be used for energy and to replace fossil fuels. Sustainable Forest Management guarantees high carbon stocks; building with wood stores carbon; bioenergy replaces fossil fuels and can even provide negative emission technologies like BECCS or BioCoal, especially when there is no demand for substitution of fossil fuels anymore. The synergies between the forestry, wood-working and bioenergy sectors form an unbeatable power team for fighting climate change – a real silver bullet!
- How are you going to bring your expertise in forestry and EU policy into your new role as president?
Bioenergy is grassroots energy, driven by rural regions and practical solutions. It is undeniable that climate policy is often driven by urban fear for the environment and is highly theoretical. This leads to a lot of misunderstanding. In Austria, we found a good balance between theory and practice, and things are moving forward. This is because both groups have a vital interest in staying under 1.5 degrees Celsius, and both sides are willing to work closely together. I will work hard to try connecting them at the European level as well.
We have millions of people who are using bioenergy, and who are working in the bioenergy sector in thousands of small- and medium-sized companies. We need to use their power, knowledge and networks to show EU politicians what we have already accomplished, and that we still need to replace more fossil fuels. EU politics is currently based on a harmonised, large single market and tends to implement one-size-fits-all solutions. This might work for fossil fuel companies that are oligopolies which take part in international trade. Bioenergy, however, is based on a lot of different regional resources and various regional uses that are each adapted to local conditions. In total, less than 5% of European bioenergy use comes from trade with third countries.
- What is your vision for the future of the bioenergy sector?
Our goal should be to build a fossil-free energy system, together with wind, hydropower, PV and the other renewables, within the next 20 years. I am convinced that sustainable bioenergy makes this possible and that it will remain a key renewable energy source, in the heating, industry and transport sector. The relevance of bioenergy will become more obvious, since it complements intermittent renewable energy sources thanks to its storability and flexibility.
- What are your expectations for the negotiations on RED and the outcome of the negotiations?
Energy policies based on emotionally driven NGO campaigns can lead to erroneous results. In regions with little experience in sustainable forestry, these campaigns have a huge influence on decision-makers. However, I am convinced that Member States have more common sense and will count on bioenergy in the future. Based on energy statistics and trust in forest institutions, policymakers know they will fail to succeed in the switch to renewables and in decarbonising without use of bioenergy.
- If you had a magic wand and could change one thing in the context of the legislation now, what would it be?
I would implement minimum criteria for social and environmental standards for fossil fuels. I wouldn't call them sustainability criteria, because fossil fuels cannot be sustainably produced, but right now bioenergy is the only energy source that has to meet environmental standards. While I think these criteria are important for ensuring best practices for bioenergy, when it comes to fossil fuels we do not ask any questions. We all agree that fossil fuels are bad and that they need to be phased out, but if we had these minimum standards, it would shine a light on just how damaging they are and place the actual cost of their continued use in perspective.