By ditching coal for biomass, Japan and South Korea are embracing false hope of a zero-carbon future
The assumption that burning biomass can replace or mitigate coal’s negative effects is not just questionable science, it is dangerously undermining coal phase-out plans in Japan and South Korea.
Last year, my colleagues and I [Tomos] took a close look at Britain’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter. It’s not a coal plant – at least not any more, really.
Since 2012, Drax Group has been transitioning out of coal; its last coal-fired plant is expected to shut down later this year. Drax is now the biggest biomass-based electricity producer in Europe – mostly using compressed wood pellets – thanks to what we estimate will be more than £10 billion (US$13 billion) in subsidies.
These subsidies are provided under the premise that burning biomass is carbon neutral, that all the carbon released from burning trees is reabsorbed when new trees are grown. This logic is no longer supported by the latest scientific evidence, which shows that burning wood for power is often not carbon neutral, and can be more polluting than coal.
Our recent analysis found that Drax is the biggest emitter in Britain, pumping out 13.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from its chimneys in 2020. This also makes it the European Union’s fourth-largest carbon dioxide emitter among coal plants when biomass emissions are included.
Reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 — and thus limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels — implies profound economic and societal shifts. According to a new report, a successful transition would have six key characteristics.
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