Bugs, biomass and carbon tax: the confusing world of climate initiatives

Did this guy wreck our forest carbon sink? Tax it! [Photo: Purdue University]
Trying to understand the various issues surrounding “climate change” and the upcoming federal carbon/pollution tax or provincial cap and trade programs can be confusing when trying to research why they are being imposed.

It gets more confusing when you try to figure out, are Canada’s forests, a carbon sink or a carbon emitter?

A CBC article from a few years ago claimed forests absorb a third (2.4 billion tonnes a year) of the world’s C02 emissions. The CBC reported the study was “by an international team of government and university researchers published Wednesday in Science” and quoted a scientist “with  Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service” who co-authored the paper. The article said “the study found that the amount of carbon absorbed annually by Canadian forests from 2000 to 2007 was about half the amount they absorbed annually from 1990 to 1999.” That was because trees killed by forest fires and by insects such as mountain pine beetle were no longer taking in carbon.

Fast forward to a recent CBC article which had this to say: “When you add up both the absorption and emissions, Canada’s forests haven’t been a net carbon sink since 2001.” The article goes on to claim our “managed forests” do absorb some emissions but: “our forestry practices would only negate roughly three to four per cent of our greenhouse-gas output each year.” And,  “In 2015, largely due to raging wildfires, these forests kicked a whopping 237 more megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than they absorbed. But when you exclude natural disturbances like fires and insect infestations and look only at the areas directly impacted by human forestry activity, the picture changes.”  The picture, as far as this article suggests, changes slightly suggesting we “have been a net sink of roughly 26 megatonnes annually since 2001.”

Pretty small potatoes considering Canada possesses about 12.5% of the world’s forests, second to Russia with 20%.  Russia claims its forests are a carbon sink, absorbing between 300 to 600 million tonnes of emissions annually. Russia has not signed on to the Paris Agreement so it’s not obligated to do what the UNFCCC tells them they should do, unlike Canada!

An interesting aspect of forests affected by the mountain pine beetle and other invasive species is related to those dead or dying trees. Those dead or dying trees are used to make wood pellets or biomass. Much of the manufactured biomass is exported to countries around the world and used for home heating and/or for generating electricity. Wood pellet exports from Canada and the U.S. for 2018 were projected to reach 2.4 million tonnes from Canada and 6.2 million tonnes from the U.S., as noted by Canadian Biomass, the media partner of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.  The industrial pelletizing process uses energy to create the end product by using: a grinder, a rotary drum dryer, a magnetic separator, a ring die pellet maker and finally a counter flow cooler.  Needless to say, these actions create greenhouse gas emissions and are (or will become) subject to a “pollution tax.” The wood pellets are then transported by cargo ships burning diesel oil to destinations across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

For importers, the pellets reaching their destination oftentimes translate to ROCs (Renewable Obligation Certificates) or “carbon credits” as they do for the Drax Power Station in the U.K.  Reference to Drax and those ROCs can be found in an article by the writer where Drax is described as:  “It has a capacity of 3,906 megawatts (MW) and produces around 20 terawatt-hours (TWh) of power a year, 65% or more using compressed wood pellets, a form of sustainably sourced biomass.” Drax receives an ROC for each MWh (megawatt hour) it generates using those imported wood pellets which they can then sell to “carbon emitters.”

Needless to say, those ROCs generate considerable income for Drax while we here in Canada pay for the emissions created by those wood pellets manufactured in Canada.

Are you confused yet? There’s more.

The energy created using biomass emits 150% the CO2 of coal, and 300 to 400% the CO2 of natural gas, per unit of energy produced.  Apparently that concept is blessed by the UNIPCC: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also says that biomass can only be considered carbon neutral if all land use impacts have been considered first.”  It is noteworthy that “Around half of the EU’s target for providing 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 will be made up by biomass energy from sources such as wood, waste and agricultural crops and residues, according to EU member states’ national action plans.” The article goes on to state: “Wood makes up the bulk of this target and is counted by the EU as ‘carbon neutral’, giving it access to subsidies, feed-in tariffs and electricity premiums at national level.”

An opinion by the European Environment Agency’s Scientific Committee  argued that “legislation that encourages substitution of fossil fuels by bioenergy, irrespective of the biomass source, may even result in increased carbon emissions – thereby accelerating global warming.”

So, bearing the above in mind, why do our politicians, ENGOs, and the UNIPCC want to tax us Canadians when others are receiving “emission credits” for using our deadwood?

Clean Energy BC in a posting on their website says: “Biomass generation, pursued on a sustainable basis, is endorsed by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and the David Suzuki Foundation.”  Hmm, one wonders if it occurred to these ENGO that supporting biomass might actually accelerate global warming? Would they also endorse the use of “dung” as an energy source?  An article on “energypedia” claimed “More than 2 billion people across the planet burn dried animal dung for energy.”  Is that where our politicians and those ENGOs such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the David Suzuki Foundation want to take us?

Perhaps our politicians can examine how they could tax the “lighting storms” causing the forest fires, the wood boring pine beetle, the emerald ash borer and the fungus responsible for Dutch elm disease instead of us environmentally aware taxpayers!  That might (temporarily) get us off the path to energy regression they and their supporters seem determined to put us on.

PARKER GALLANT

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Author: parkergallantenergyperspectivesblog

Retired international banker.

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