As the European Commission releases its Biomass Action Plan, WWF, Greenpeace, BirdLife International and the European Environmental Bureau warn the EU that it must put in place strong environmental safeguards, without which reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be negligible and impacts on the broader environment will be severe.

The environmental organisations believe that bioenergy can become a key source of energy in the future, and welcome the EU's efforts to increase its use.

However they are concerned that the Biomass Action Plan does not guarantee environmental and social safeguards. These measures should apply to both European and imported bioenergy, and include checks on the greenhouse gas balance of the crop. Due to their high level of inputs during the cultivation and transformation phases, certain biomass production systems result in levels of greenhouse gas emissions which are not much lower than those of fossil fuels.

Furthermore, the impact of biomass production on biodiversity, water and soil needs to be taken into account. This is already a major problem in the tropics, where millions of hectares of forest have already been converted into soya, sugarcane and palm oil plantations. "Large scale biomass plantation projects like the planned Oil Palm Plantation in Kalimantan, Indonesia, entail the destruction of vast swathes of rainforest. This not only affects valuable ecosystems, but contributes to climate change as the rainforests are an important carbon sink," said Jean-Philippe Denruyter, Climate Change and Energy Policy Officer at WWF. "We are calling on the EU to ensure such projects will not be supported through biofuel imports into the EU."

"If managed sustainably, bioenergy can help us to cut greenhouse gas emissions and restore degraded land," said Ariel Brunner, Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife International. "However, poorly managed production does little to reduce emissions and can have a devastating impact on the environment."

"We are facing serious environmental challenges such as eutrophication in our aquatic environment caused by unsustainable agricultural practices," commented Stefan Scheuer, EU Policy Director of the EEB. "Unless we see a dramatic shift in the management of soils and a significant reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilisers, Europe will fail to meet its environmental directives. Biomass production should not hamper the EU's ability to meet this objective."