Fact or fiction: Denmark’s climate aspirations going up in smoke? - The Post

Fact or fiction: Denmark’s climate aspirations going up in smoke?

International researchers lambast Danes for burning wood and calling it green

Biomass: Denmark’s contribution, or its biggest climate swindle? (photo: Pixabay)
September 9th, 2019 5:37 am| by Christian W

“Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining,” was a classic quote from the film ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’.

Well according to several international researchers, that’s exactly what Denmark’s doing when it maintains that the burning of wood – Denmark’s biggest source of green energy – is CO2 neutral.

A recent survey showed that close to 80 percent of Danes believed wind power was their country’s primary green energy source, but actually it is the burning of wood pellets chopped up from trees felled across the world and burned in power plants as biomass.

“I’ve always thought of Denmark as a country that works on facts. So it was very concerning for me to learn how much wood Denmark burns. It’s the equivalent of accounting fraud,” William Moomaw, a lead author on five UN reports for the UN Climate Panel, told TV2 News.

READ ALSO: Industry commitment to sustainable biomass energy

Clinging to obsolete belief?
Back in the 1990s, the widespread belief in global political and scientific circles was that burning wood was CO2 neutral and a sustainable energy source, because trees replenish and absorb CO2 again.

But despite that consensus having long evapourated, politicians in Denmark still cling to that archaic concept when calculating the country’s CO2 emissions.

If the Danes incorporated the burning of biomass into their CO2 accounts, it would show that Denmark emitted 39 percent more CO2 than officially accounted for today.

READ ALSO: Energy authority: Transport emissions will be the same in 2030 as today

Tree growth and glacier rates
Only Sweden, Finland and Latvia burn more biomass than Denmark in the EU, but they principally burn their own forests. Denmark, meanwhile, imports most of the wood it burns, such as from the US.

“It’s climate fraud. You might choose to ignore your emissions, but it’s not scientifically correct. If you don’t look at the entire life cycle, then you are cheating yourselves,” Daniel Kammen, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and former lead author on the UN Climate Panel, told TV2 news.

A long with a number of other prominent researchers, he has penned two warnings to European politicians warning them about the fatal consequences of the EU hedging its bets on biomass burning. Two key aspects are trees not growing fast enough and the world glacier melting rates.

READ ALSO: Dour reading: Denmark’s energy consumption and CO2 emissions increased in 2018 

It curbs CO2 emission
Meanwhile, other researchers point to burning biomass is a good idea as it halts the consumption of fossil fuels.

“The most important climate goal is to stop using fossil fuels. As long as we use biomass to curb fossil fuels and avoid overusing forests, it makes good sense to me, climate-wise,” Niclas Scott Bentsen, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen.

Energy advocacy organisation, Dansk Energi, contends that the biomass it burns is climate-friendly because it is from wood that has no other function – waste wood that would simply decompose if not burnt.

READ ALSO: EU countries making inroads on CO2 emissions

Setting bad example
But others don’t buy those explanations and instead argue that Denmark sets a bad example to the rest of the world by claiming that burning wood is CO2 neutral.

“If Denmark continues to burn wood and claim that it reduces CO2 emissions, it only goes to encourage countries like Brazil and Indonesia to continue chopping down tropical forest and maintain that it’s good for the climate,” Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University, told TV2 News.