Environmental News from Asia:
- Over the past decade, Japan and South Korea have increasingly turned to burn wood pellets for energy, leaning on a U.N. loophole that dubs biomass burning as carbon neutral.
- While Japan recently instituted a new rule requiring life cycle greenhouse gas emissions accounting, this doesn’t apply to its existing 34 biomass energy plants; Japanese officials say biomass will play an expanding role in achieving Japan’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by 2030.
- South Korea included biomass burning in its renewable energy portfolio standard, leading to 17 biomass energy plants currently operating and at least four more on the way.
- Experts say these booms in Asia — the first major expansion of biomass burning outside Europe — could lead to a large undercounting of actual carbon emissions and worsening climate change while putting pressure on already-beleaguered forests.
The European Union and the United Kingdom are ramping up controversial wood burning to generate energy and heat as they follow legal mandates to phase out coal. But this practice is leaving smokestack carbon emissions uncounted and the atmosphere in arguably worse shape.
Now, on the other side of the world, two industrial Asian giants are following Europe’s lead, though with less media scrutiny to date.
Japan and South Korea, the world’s third- and 10th-largest economies, have been increasingly relying on burning wood for energy since 2012, taking advantage of a United Nations-tolerated loophole that enables them, like the EU and the U.K., to allow emissions from biomass burning to be counted as carbon neutral, putting it in the same category as renewables such as solar and wind energy.
The result may be an undercounting of their actual greenhouse gas emissions, allowing them to meet their Paris Agreement goals — at least on paper. Both Japan and South Korea pledged in 2020 to reach net-zero emissions by 2050; the EU and the U.K. have the same goal.
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