A new report from Greenpeace Fuelling a Biomess warns that Canada’s growing forest bioenergy industry is relying increasingly on the harvesting of whole trees and other important forest resources, and that the “biomass boom” could harm Canada’s forests and worsen the climate crisis. Canada releases approximately 40 megatonne of greenhouse gas emissions annually from forest bioenergy production, and exports 1.2 million tonnes of wood pellets to Europe, an increase of 700 per cent in less than eight years.

The report’s central claim is that woody biomass power plants can emit up to 150 per cent more CO2 than current coal-fired electricity plants in North America, together with 400 per cent more carbon monoxide and 200 per cent more harmful particulate matter, to produce the same energy. The report uses peer-reviewed scientific studies to challenge the sustainability claims of the forest bioenergy industry. It concludes that a strongly increasing demand for biofuels cannot be met by traditional waste stream sources like sawdust, bark and other residues, and recommends that using biomass for energy should be restricted to local and small-scale operations.

“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,” said Nicolas Mainville, Greenpeace Canada forest campaigner.

Greenpeace is concerned that provincial governments are allowing large volumes of wood, standing trees as well as the woody debris left after natural fires or disease episodes, from publicly owned forests to be burned for biofuel, without public hearings and without seeking scientific advice. “If it continues along this current trajectory, the biomass boom could have drastic ecological impacts on forest health and biodiversity,” Mainville said.

The Canadian Bioenergy Association issued an initial response to the report saying it “firmly maintains that biomass is a sustainable, climate friendly renewable energy source” and that “bioenergy and responsible forestry can co-exist.”