CO2 emissions from biomass burning on the rise

wood chips, a biomass source
In 2020, the combustion of biomass produced 19 megatonnes of CO2. This is 16 percent up on the previous year. The elevation in CO2 emissions was mainly due to the co-firing and co-gasification of biomass in power plants. This is evident from an initital estimate of emissions to air over 2020 by Statistics Netherlands (CBS). CO2 emissions from burning biomass do not count towards the targets for 2050 towards zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Between 2012 and 2016, CO2 emissions from biomass combustion fell from 15.1 to 13.7 megatonnes. Emissions of CO2 due to biomass burning have been on the rise since 2017; in 2019 and 2020 emissions even grew by over 10 percent annually. Biomass is a source of renewable energy that releases CO2. There are many different types of biomass, each used in its own way. CBS has previously published figures on biomass indicating that, with a share of 54 percent, biomass is the single largest source of renewable energy in the Netherlands. It is followed by wind (23 percent) and solar energy (14 percent).

CO2 emissions from biomass combustion
 CO2 emissions (megatonnes)

Biomass emission levels rose mainly in the energy sector

The largest increase in biomass-related CO2 emissions can be observed in the power sector. Emissions tripled over the period 2016-2020. During this period, co-firing of biomass in coal-fired power stations was stimulated by government subsidies under the SDE++ scheme (Stimulation of Sustainable Energy Production).
Most CO2 emissions associated with biomass are produced in the environmental services sector during the incineration of organic waste. These emissions have remained fairly constant in recent years.

CO2 emissions from biomass combustion by sector
 2020 (megatonnes)2016 (megatonnes)
Water and waste management6.56.518
Energy supply6.2391.767
Public administration, public services0.6170.609
Transportation and storage0.4410.245

Households consuming more biofuels

Households have been emitting more CO2 through biomass burning in recent years, especially through consumption of biofuels for transport. This is related to the so-called blending obligation. In 2007, a new law stipulated that so-called biopetrol and biodiesel must be added to fossil petrol and diesel, respectively. On the other hand, CO2 released during wood burning in stoves and fireplaces did decline over this period. In 2020, total CO2 emissions from households were 18 percent lower than in 2016. CO2 emissions from biomass combustion did increase by 13 percent over this period, however. Contribution of biomass combustion to CO2 emissions has increased to 11.3 percent
In 2020, the share of CO2 emissions from biomass burning in total CO2 emissions on Dutch territory rose to 11.3 percent. This was still 6.8 percent in 2016. The increase of this share is partly due to the 18-percent drop in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. That decrease occurred mainly in the electricity and aviation sectors.

CO2 emissions from biomass combustion
 Contribution of biomass (% of total emissions)

Biomass does not count towards climate agreement targets

The main goal of the Dutch Climate Agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49 percent in 2030 and by 95 percent in 2050, compared to 1990. The emissions registration according to IPCC guidelines is leading in this respect. This registration does not include emissions from biomass combustion. The general assumption is that biomass-related CO2 emissions are compensated by the growing of new trees and plants that in turn capture this CO2 (carbon capture).
Aside from emissions registered in accordance with IPCC guidelines, CBS also publishes air emission accounts according to the resident principle. This includes emissions from biomass consumption, as these are estimated according to the national accounts definitions.