A flurry of announcements and pledges marked the first several days of the UN climate summit in Dubai. Notably, a call to triple renewable energy expansion by 2030 — signed by over 100 countries, including Canada — is being pushed by some world leaders to be a binding goal in the final agreement.

While this commitment represents ambition for some, people from around the world attending COP28 with an eye to human rights and forest destruction (myself included) are warning about a powerful impostor in the renewable energy sphere: forest biomass. With devastating impacts on communities, biodiversity and the global climate, the growing forest biomass industry could turn clean energy dreams into nightmarish destruction.

The forest biomass industry has ballooned in recent years with the help of massive subsidies geared toward the green energy transition. Members of the industry like U.K. energy giant Drax, which owns the majority of facilities in British Columbia, produce wood pellets that are burned by power utilities overseas to generate electricity.

Countries around the world — including Canada, the United States, the U.K., Japan and members of the European Union — are promoting burning wood pellets made from forest biomass as a “clean” energy solution. However, forest biomass is anything but a safe alternative to fossil fuels.

Burning wood to generate electricity, often in existing coal power plants, produces high carbon emissions — as high or higher than coal. What’s more, the need to maintain a steady supply of wood pellets is leading to the destruction of vital, carbon-rich forests.

Pollution from a wood pellet mill in Burns Lake, B.C. Burning wood to generate electricity produces high carbon emissions. Photo by Stand.earth

The scale of damage caused by the forest biomass industry has been made nearly invisible at every level. Improvements are needed to ensure carbon accounting systems more accurately reflect the emissions associated with biomass, which is an even dirtier fuel than coal by many measures.

Whether the pledge to increase renewables by 30 per cent will effectively cut carbon emissions depends on how renewable energy is defined. Right now, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change includes both genuinely low-carbon solutions like wind and solar alongside sources of energy like forest biomass. The need to more accurately report emissions aligns with the first-ever global stocktake now being undertaken by delegates in Dubai to assess progress toward reduction targets outlined in the Paris Agreement.

At a COP28 event on Dec. 5 for the “energy, industry and just transition” themed day, Drax and other big biomass energy representatives continued to obscure the impact of this industry and push their agenda to burn forests as an alternative to fossil fuels.

With devastating impacts on communities, biodiversity and the global climate, the growing forest biomass industry could turn clean energy dreams into nightmarish destruction, writes @talltegan #cdnpoli #bcpoli #COP28 #OldGrowth

Drax branding around a U.K.-sponsored renewable energy pavilion read “capture the opportunity,” referring to (unproven and problematic) carbon capture technology. But, the presence of Drax and other bioenergy interests at the global warming summit shows it is actually governments that have been captured.

Underpinning Drax operations are massive subsidies from the U.K. government to the tune of £2 million a day. Canada has also used public funds to bolster the green image of forest biomass energy. Just last month, Canada expanded its “clean” energy tax credits to include biomass.

There is no doubt that we need a renewable energy transition. Forest biomass may appear to offer an easy solution — and one that keeps companies like Drax in business — but it is a huge problem for our collective ability to address the climate crisis in a just way. That is why as COP28 draws to a conclusion, the Biomass Action Network, representing organizations across six continents, is sounding the alarm in Dubai.

Canada is the third largest exporter of forest biomass in the world and with the U.K., co-chairs the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which has promoted biomass as a way to get off coal.

Instead of introducing new subsidies that prop up a false climate solution at home, countries like Canada should intervene at COP to explicitly denounce forest biomass, call for much-needed changes to global carbon reporting and accounting to accurately reflect emissions, and uphold a just transition for communities everywhere.

Tegan Hansen (she/her) is a senior forest campaigner for Stand.earth and a member of the EPN’s Global Biomass Action Network. She lives on Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories (Vancouver, B.C.) and is a delegate to COP28 in Dubai.

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The industry needs to be sized by biomass-disposal needs, not by power needs. There is a certain amount of biomass that would decay into methane if just left - agricultural wastes are bigger than any forestry leftovers - and it's a Good Thing to burn them instead of the methane. As long as that's the size of the industry, it's fine.

Given dictatorial powers, I'd mostly save the stuff up for periods with low wind and sun, use it all in the winter; it's not great economics though, so the system would have to be artificially maintained.

Bravo, Tegan - and Stand Earth - for this article. Now could you write a similar article on the epic scale of damage to biodiversity, ecosystems, wildlife and their habitat, water - ground, riparian, lacustrine and marine - as well as rural communities to be caused by mining for lithium and rare earth minerals? Mining, as environmental organizations used to know, is not going to be the savior of the biosphere. "Clean/green" energy is neither, but it is a great boost for a growth growth growth economy which is rubbing its hands in glee, but it will only compound the our crisis catastrophically. Perhaps we should simply live smaller, quit flying everywhere, consider one less child....

The pellet plants were permitted because they promised to use forest waste.
There is evidence they are now using whole logs.
And a couple of weeks ago Smithers local community forest posted that they would be slash burning because there was no economic destination to ship the scrap; despite the Drax plant 10 km away downhill.
This entire industry makes no sense.

The word «renewable » is pure GREENWASHING.

«Enquête» an investigative report by Radio-Canada (the equivalent of «W5» or the «Fifth Estate» ) showed that Drax was using BC forests to produce electricity in Great Britain. In theory, they should be using forest leftovers( branches, stumps, wood of poor quality, etc) . But «Enquête» showed that BC forests had been logged clear, but we saw photos of wood debris left in huge piles. In other words, Drax and its subcontractors did the exact opposite of what they should be doing!!!

As I said in a text on that subject, we need trees to remove CO2 from the air; they should never be used to produce electricity for a few moments in a foreign country. See

Whether using corn for ethanol (as an additive in gasoline) or clear-cutting our forests to produce « renewable» electricity, the cure is worst that the original ailment!!!

In both cases, the words «RENEWABLE» and «RENOUVELABLE» are a PR (public relation) abomination in both official languages of Canada.

At mid-afternoon on Monday (April 4), senior staff at British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests were told that one of their highest-ranking members—the province’s chief forester, Diane Nicholls—was entering the revolving door that would sweep her seamlessly out of government employ and into the industry her ministry regulates.

“Diane is leaving us to further her work in sustainable forestry in the private sector in the role of VP Sustainability for North America with Drax,” Rick Manwaring, the ministry’s deputy minister, said in an email to 30 of his colleagues.

This should be illegal in politics as who does it encourage service too? The public or business and I say this is an outright conflict of interest. I am sick of our ex-politicians selling off our resources to the industry then joining them at the feast.