A coalition of environmental campaigners have launched a court bid to stop the European Commission treating forest grown wood as a renewable source of energy.

Plaintiffs from six countries filed a lawsuit last week with the European General Court in Luxembourg, which seeks to annul the forest biomass provisions of the EU’s 2018 Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II.

The case is designed to disqualify forest wood from contributing to the directive’s target that 32 per cent of all electricity generated across the EU should be generated from renewable sources.

The plaintiffs challenge the directive’s criteria for assessing greenhouse gas emissions, which they say fails to count the CO2 coming out the smokestack when wood is burned.

They say that if this is taken into account, biomass plants emit more CO2 per megawatt hour than fossil-fuelled power plants, including coal.

And while equivalent CO2 can be sequestered by regrowth of woodland, replacing the trees that have been harvested can take over a century and will not happen if the land is converted to agricultural uses, according to the suit.

A background note says: “It (the directive) undermines its own purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and in fact will result in increased net CO2 emissions and degradation of forest carbon sinks.”

The note estimates that around half of renewable energy across the EU is generated from biomass-fired plants, like those converted from coal by Drax at its north Yorkshire station, a proportion which it says is expected to grow as a result of the directive.

The plaintiffs are composed of groups representing communities in virgin forest areas of the EU and the USA who are concerned about the upsurge in demand for wood fuel as a result of the directive.

The case contends that increased forest cutting will exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the capacity of this woodland to absorb and sequester carbon.

Dr Mary Booth, director of the US-based Partnership for Policy Integrity and lead science adviser on the case, said: “The EU’s policy relies on the false and reckless assumption that burning forest wood is carbon neutral.

“However, scientists from around the world, including the EU’s own science advisers, warned that burning forest wood actually increases emissions relative to fossil fuels.”

Sasha Stashwick, senior advocate at the US based National Resource Defence Council that is backing the court case, urged the UK government to drop its support for Drax.

She said: “The whole business is a house of cards, based on the discredited claim that chopping down trees around the world, shipping them to north Yorkshire, and burning them for electricity is somehow good for the climate.“

“The government has all the information it needs to end this fake green energy fiasco. Hopefully this legal challenge finally pushes them to do the right thing and end Drax’s subsidies so it can invest the savings in real clean energy like solar and wind at a fraction of the cost.”

Responding to the lodging of the suit on behalf of Biomass UK, Benedict McAleenan said: “Expert authorities around the world agree that we need bioenergy to fight climate change. From the UN’s IPCC to the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, bioenergy is seen as key to cutting emissions. So we need robust regulations like the EU’s RED II to oversee its growth and ensure its delivered sustainably.

“These campaigners are seeking to dismantle the regulations before they’re even in place, based on theories about how the new rules will work. They should be rejected by the court.”

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