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Biomass Wood Pellets

Environmental charity seeks judicial review of government’s plans to promote the use of biomass fuel in its strategy to cut greenhouse gases

The environmental and rewilding charity The Lifescape Project is seeking a judicial review of the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero’s plans to meet the UK’s obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions in part through its new Biomass Strategy.

Posted on 13 November 2023

Lifescape argues that burning forest biomass to generate power is not low carbon as the government claims, but produces significant emissions of CO2, with impacts that can last decades. Likewise, the government’s plans to deploy biomass energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), will not remove CO2 from the atmosphere as the government claims it will. 

The Biomass Strategy was included in the government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan which was published in March this year. The plan outlined how the government intends to achieve its target of net zero emissions by 2050 as part of the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act.

The Biomass Strategy was earmarked by the plan as a policy that would enable those net zero targets to be met. The published version of the strategy identified bioenergy as one of three “low carbon” fuel sources which could replace fossil fuel use in the industrial sector and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, in its assessment of biomass as a low carbon fuel, the strategy does not take into account lifecycle biogenic CO2 emissions from manufacturing and combusting the biomass. Lifescape points to research showing net emissions from forest biomass typically exceed emissions from fossil fuels per unit of energy, with impacts that last decades. 

Lifescape, represented by law firm, Leigh Day, argues the Secretary of State’s decision to adopt the Biomass Strategy is unlawful under the Climate Change Act and are seeking a Judicial Review on the following grounds:

  1. The Secretary of State acted irrationally by failing to conduct an adequate analysis of the extent to which the government’s continued support for the combustion of biomass, including forest biomass, will achieve genuine reductions in carbon emissions or otherwise contribute to meeting carbon budgets and the Net Zero Target 

  2. Further or alternatively, such a failure breached the Secretary of State’s duty under section 13 of the Climate Change Act 2008 to have policies and proposals that will enable the carbon budgets to be met. 

  3. The consultation exercise that preceded its publication was unfair, because the underlying scientific analysis relied upon was not disclosed to consultees, who were as a result deprived of the opportunity to comment.

Elsie Blackshaw-Crosby, Managing Lawyer at The Lifescape Project said:

“Burning wood for electricity and calling it ‘low carbon’ is a climate fallacy which detracts from genuine climate solutions while simultaneously destroying forest eco-systems in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. The UK government needs to properly assess and reflect the actual impacts of burning forest biomass. Their current plans would cost billions of pounds of public money without getting us any closer to net zero.”

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said:

“In adopting the Biomass Strategy, it is argued that the Secretary of State failed to properly assure herself that the combustion of biomass will actually deliver the carbon savings claimed. Lifescape says that, not only is biomass unfit to be considered a low carbon energy source, but it also encourages the destruction of forests around the world. Lifescape is urging the government to drop the inclusion of forest biomass from its future energy plans and look to use other, genuinely renewable ways to generate power.”

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Rowan Smith
Climate change Environment Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Rowan Smith

Rowan Smith is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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