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Brussels wants to tighten rules to prevent some forms of wood-burning energy from counting towards the EU’s green energy targets after rising pressure from environmental groups and scientists.

The European Commission will propose strengthening its “sustainability criteria” to measure whether forms of biomass — which involves combustible pellets made from wood or organic waste — should be considered as renewable, according to a leaked document seen by the Financial Times.

Biomass makes up nearly two-thirds of the renewable energy in the EU, dwarfing output from sources such as wind and solar power.

Finland and Sweden are among the leading EU member states with a heavy reliance on biomass that have pushed Brussels to keep the rules, known as the Renewable Energy Directive, unchanged. They are opposed by environmental campaigners who demand that all forms of biomass from forests are excluded from the EU’s renewable energy classification.

The leaked document says that wood from diverse and primary forest land, known as “no-go areas”, should not be considered as renewable.

European Commission proposal to stiffen criteria on biomass for energy use, according to leaked document

Primary forest material accounts for about 18 per cent of all biomass produced in the EU.

The proposed EU rules will also be expanded to cover biomass plants with a fuel capacity of more than 5 megawatts, lowering a threshold that presently stands at 20 megawatts.

The commission also encourages member states not to burn high-quality wood for energy production unless other forms have been exhausted.

Environmental groups and scientists have pushed Brussels to revamp its renewable energy rules to remove all forms of forest material, arguing that the burning of wood contributes to carbon emissions and a reduction in the absorption of CO2 through a mechanism known as the carbon sink.

Frans Timmermans, EU vice-president for the Green Deal, has said that without biomass the EU will be unable to meet its ambitious climate goals to reduce net zero emissions to zero by 2050.

“We need biomass in the mix, but we need the right biomass in the mix. I hate the images of whole forests being cut down to be put in an incinerator. I think it’s unsustainable and it’s indefensible,” Timmermans told Euractiv last month.

Brussels is also expected to increase the EU’s overall renewable energy target from an existing 32 per cent by 2030 to almost 40 per cent in 2030. The leaked text does not specify the target which is expected to be finalised in the coming weeks.

The overhaul will need to be approved by a qualified majority of member states and a majority in the European Parliament.

The Renewable Energy Directive proposal is due to be published in July as part of a radical overhaul of EU legislation to help set the course for higher emissions cuts across swaths of Europe’s economy. The EU is working towards cutting CO2 emissions by 55 per cent, compared with its 1990 level, over the next decade.

“The commission must now unambiguously state that their renewable directive will exclusively support renewable energy — as the name clearly suggests”, said Dominic Eagleton, senior gas campaigner, at Global Witness, the human rights and environment NGO.

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