Drax's Wood Sourcing Raises Environmental Concerns Amid Green Subsidies

Drax's Wood Sourcing Raises Environmental Concerns Amid Green Subsidies

Drax's Wood Sourcing Raises Environmental Concerns Amid Green Subsidies

Drax, a UK power company receiving £6 billion in green subsidies, is under scrutiny for its sourcing practices.

The company has been obtaining timber from ecologically significant forests despite previous claims. Documents obtained by Panorama reveal that Drax sourced wood from rare Canadian forests, contradicting its assertions that these areas were off-limits. As the UK government contemplates additional environmental subsidies for Drax's Yorkshire site, environmentalists are raising concerns about the ecological impact of burning wood pellets, classified as renewable energy.

Drax Power Station, located in North Yorkshire, plays a pivotal role in the UK's efforts to achieve climate targets by burning wood pellets to generate electricity. Despite emitting approximately 12 million tonnes of carbon annually, international rules exempt the UK from counting these emissions. Drax benefits from substantial green subsidies, and the government is considering extending financial support to the Yorkshire site, prompting closer scrutiny of its wood sourcing practices.

Panorama's investigation reveals that Drax, in contradiction to prior statements, procured timber from endangered Canadian forests. While the company denied sourcing from primary forests, it continued obtaining whole logs from areas marked as "old-growth" and "priority deferral." Documents from British Columbia's Ministry of Forests show that Drax received over 40,000 tonnes of wood from such forests in 2023, raising environmental alarms.

Drax's use of timber from old-growth forests, considered irreplaceable and ecologically significant, has far-reaching consequences. The company's actions contribute to the depletion of these forests, impacting biodiversity and unique habitats. Despite claims that its wood pellets are sustainably and legally harvested, the evidence suggests a substantial reliance on wood from environmentally sensitive areas.

Environmentalists argue that sourcing pellets from old-growth forests is inherently unsustainable, challenging Drax's claims of sustainability. Michelle Connolly, an ecologist from Conservation North, highlights the severe impact on British Columbia's old-growth forests, emphasizing the irreversibility of the damage caused by decades of logging.

Confronted with evidence, Drax acknowledged sourcing wood from old-growth forests but asserted that a majority of its Canadian wood pellets come from sawdust, sawmill residues, and other sustainable sources. The company claimed to have decided in October 2023 to cease obtaining wood from old-growth priority deferral areas, though it continues to source from other old-growth sites. Drax's evolving stance, marked by a shift from its 2017 commitment to avoid "no-go areas" and primary forests, underscores the complex challenges associated with balancing energy production, environmental concerns, and regulatory compliance.

Drax's eligibility for green subsidies depends on its classification as a renewable and emission-free energy source. The UK government, considering an extension of subsidies until the end of the decade, faces opposition from critics who argue that subsidies for burning wood pellets should not persist beyond 2027. Drax contends that the emissions from burning wood are offset by planting new trees, but skeptics question the effectiveness of this offsetting strategy.

Drax's wood sourcing practices raise critical environmental concerns, challenging the sustainability claims associated with its wood pellets. As the UK government deliberates on further subsidies, the ecological impact of burning wood from sensitive forests remains a focal point. Striking a balance between energy production, climate targets, and environmental preservation requires a comprehensive reassessment of policies, ensuring that subsidies align with genuine efforts to address climate change without compromising biodiversity and natural ecosystems.

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Susanna Koelblin

Commercialization & Sourcing Leader Focused On Circularity

From blockchain to recycling, Susanna talks about emerging technologies and circularity topics in the fashion industry.

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