Plans for burning Namibian wood in German power plants denounced
Open Letter sent to Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development
18 February 2021 — A project which would see large quantities of Namibian wood burned in German power stations, starting with the Tiefstack coal plant in Hamburg, has attracted international criticism, with 40 development, environmental and social justice groups as well as scientists having sent an Open Letter to Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Dr Gerd Müller, earlier today. His ministry is financing a development project in Namibia called “Bush Control and Biomass Utilisation”, which involves developing policies and infrastructure for the large-scale removal of bushes and trees from an area of 30 million hectares of land and the export of most of that wood to be burned in German power plants. Signatories to the Open Letter warn that the proposal would lead to adverse effects on the climate as well as on employment in Namibia. They also warn that is based on a neo-colonial paradigm and that it risks worsening social injustices both globally and within Namibia.
Although the project is funded with development finance, one of the main goals set out in a feasibility study emphasises the benefits to Germany, where Namibian wood is to help facilitate the coal phaseout.
Based on a legal carbon accounting loophole, Germany could declare its energy generated by burning Namibian wood as being CO2 neutral, with energy providers having to pay no carbon credits for biomass energy under EU Emissions Trading Rules. At the same time, the German government is considering increased subsidies for biomass energy, with the EU Renewable Energy Directive permitting member states to subsidise coal-to-biomass conversions.
Jana Ballenthien, who leads the forest campaign of the German NGO ROBIN WOOD states: “Germany would – on paper – get closer to reaching its climate mitigation coals by burning wood from Namibia and elsewhere. In reality, however, this would further aggravate the climate crisis, even when coal burning is replaced. This dangerous development must be stopped.”
Burning wood releases even more CO2 upfront per unit of energy than burning coal. Meantime, Namibia would lose a carbon sink that is of vital importance for climate protection. One of the main reasons cited for cutting down bushes and is that this would allow for an intensification of cattle ranching; this, however, brings further negative impacts for the climate and for biodiversity. Moreover, there are risks of severe ecological harm caused by large-scale industrial bush and tree removal.
Almuth Ernsting, Codirector of Biofuelwatch says: “This is one of the first proposals to create a large wood biomass supply chain from the global South to an EU country. It is reminiscent of the numerous biofuel projects by European investors in Africa, many with government support in the last decade, which have left a legacy of deep social and environmental problems. Once again, under the EU Renewable Energy Directive an EU member state is looking to outsource greenhouse gas emissions and social and ecological risk, this time to Namibia.”
The project financed with German development funds is planned in the very region that saw the genocide against 75,000 Ova-Hereo and Nama people during Germany’s colonial occupation.
Signatories of the letter state: “The use of biomass imported from the global South for energy generation risks exacerbating the global climate and biodiversity crises, and thus cannot contribute to a sustainable energy transition in Europe. German development finance must not contribute to measures which worsen the climate and biodiversity crises.”
Jana Ballenthien adds: “Minister Müller must take action against plans that would devastate precious ecosystems and carbon sinks. Doing so would set an important signal for other EU member states.”