The policies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change contain a dangerous loophole that allows for carbon dioxide (CO2) emission from burning wood biofuel. This CO2 emission from burning forests for energy is therefore not counted in the nations’ CO2 emission accounting systems because it’s been declared “renewable.” This means that, over time, forest regrowth can capture the released carbon from the original clearcut—but only if the cut forests are allowed to regrow enough to pay back the carbon debt, which is questionable. But even if they are allowed that time, the problem is the length of time. It takes 44-104 years, as research has shown, to repay the debt which is way too long to be anything but counterproductive to meeting the Paris Agreement limits. It only diminishes our chances to meet them.
The loophole originated long before the Paris Accord that set limits on global temperature rise. Presently, the global temperature rise since preindustrial time is at 1degree C (1.8F). A rise to 1.5C (2.7F) is the level that, if crossed, may lead to dangerous global warming, and may cause the crossing of tipping points—further leading to catastrophic warming.
Tipping point entities include the permafrost of the Arctic and Antarctic; the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which are deep Atlantic Ocean currents driving weather and ocean ecosystems; icesheets of both the northern and southern latitudes; tropical forests; and the Boreal Forest of Alaska, Canada and Siberia. Once crossed, a tipping point entity converts to a new permanent stable state without the carbon capture shielding against the effects of warming that was contained in the original entity. For example, the rain forest of the Amazon basin could convert to a highly degraded forest, or a savanna grassland having lost the massive carbon capture of the original Amazonian tropical rain forest.
The loophole, created 26 years ago at the Kyoto Protocol, has led to a subsidized industry that burns wood pellets for electric power to replace coal in the countries of the European Union and the United Kingdom. However, as studies have shown, burning wood releases more CO2 into the atmosphere than coal because coal burns more efficiently than wood. But wood burning in power plants continues due to the loophole and the massive subsidies the industry receives.
A letter from 800 scientists to the European Union Parliament, January 2018, stated that, “Overall, allowing the harvest and burning of wood under the directive will transform large reductions otherwise achieved through solar and wind into large increases in carbon in the atmosphere by 2050. Time matters. Placing an additional carbon load in the atmosphere for decades means permanent damages due to more rapid melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost, and more packing of heat and acidity into the world’s oceans. At a critical moment when countries need to be ‘buying time’ against climate change, this approach amounts to ‘selling’ the world’s limited time to combat it.”
So, this is about burning our forests with the carbon capture they provide and the biodiversity they harbor, to generate electricity by a method that releases more CO2 into the atmosphere than burning coal and diminishing our chances to meet the targets of the Paris Accord. It seems like a perfect recipe to steal the future from our grandchildren.
Johnny Armstrong, Author
Rescuing Biodiversity (publishing in June 2023) tells the story of Johnny's attempts at Wafer Creek Ranch to preserve a vanishing Louisiana ecosystem and restore the animal and plant species that once lived there.
“An avowed student of life and restoration ecology, Johnny Armstrong expertly teaches us how to restore an imperiled southern ecosystem based on deep research, firsthand experience, and delighted observation of the species that return to his beloved Wafer Creek Ranch. Driving his devotion is the alarming truth that loss of biodiversity poses a threat on par with climate change and his impassioned belief that society can alter that trajectory, one acre at a time.”
Cindy Brown, Executive Director
Land Trust for Louisiana
“Up there on your bookshelf between Tolkien and Watership Down is where this book belongs. As an anthropomorphic adventure that winds through the realm of animals possessing courage, savagery, perseverance, and ultimately wisdom in the face of mounting evil threats – humans disconnected from the natural world – the tale is relevant, if not necessary.”
Kelby Ouchley, Author
Bayou Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country
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Shadowshine, An Animal Adventure
by Johnny Armstrong
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