In the past few decades, the European Union has transformed its energy system. In 2005 about 10 percent of all energy consumed in the EU came from renewable sources. Last year that share hit 22 percent—it’s one of the main reasons the bloc’s per capita carbon emissions have rapidly declined in the 21st century. This shift will need to ramp up even further if the EU is to hit its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
But here’s the weird thing. A huge chunk of that renewable energy comes from burning wood. Nearly 60 percent of all the EU’s renewable energy comes from bioenergy—a catch-all term that encompasses any energy sourced from something recently living. That includes agricultural waste, crops grown for biofuel, and—most importantly—wood from forestry industries. A small proportion of this biomass is turned into biofuels or burned in power plants, but almost three-quarters is burned to warm homes and businesses. And we’re not just talking about wood-burning stoves. Almost all of Sweden’s urban heating is generated by district heating systems, which mostly burn wood produced by the country’s vast and influential forestry industries.