Bioenergy is the primary renewable energy source in the EU, representing 60% of final energy consumption, of which 76% is woody and other solid biomass. Biomass is generally considered to be as an intermediate solution for the energy transition in the EU, and many Member States plan to increase the amount of biomass to meet renewable energy targets. This is especially true in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region, where Bulgaria plans to increase biomass use for heating by 44%, Hungary envisages a 40% growth in the bioheat and bioenergy sector, and Romania plans to increase biomass-based gross final consumption in the heating sector by 24% between 2021 and 2030.
The overall objective of LIFE BIO-BALANCE is to support EU Member States to shift to a low-carbon and resilient economy by ensuring that solid biomass is produced and used sustainably at all levels. The project will be delivered in three CEE countries: Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania.
It will build multi-stakeholder, multi-sector policy and knowledge sharing processes at the national and local level to ensure that biomass is balanced with other feasible alternatives and that only solid biomass with high sustainability is included in updated national energy and climate plans (NECPs), long-term strategies (LTS), sustainable energy and climate action plans (SECAPs), and in the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) revision process. Action at all levels is needed if Member States are to reach the newly proposed 55% emission reduction target by 2030.
The project will develop an open source tool to differentiate biomass value chains according to sustainability criteria, namely: efficiency; greenhouse gas savings; and LULUCF (land use, land-use change, and forestry) and forest sustainability. This tool will build on the existing framework of user-friendly modelling tools (e.g. the Biomass Carbon Calculator developed by Drax) and will come in two versions: SustainBioEnNat will be tailored for national-level analysis and SustainBioEnLoc to local/regional analysis.
The specific objectives are:
- By 2023, development of an integrated biomass governance framework in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, mainstreaming biomass sustainability, emission reduction and resource efficiency across five related sectors (forestry, environment, electricity and heat, energy efficiency of buildings, and energy poverty), enabling national governments to ensure biomass sustainability in their national climate strategy update process. National biomass panels will develop recommendations on more sustainable biomass criteria, best practice policies and updates to the 3 countries‘ NECPs and LTS;
- Raising awareness and sharing best practices with stakeholders and citizens in 60 firewood-dependent municipalities in each of the 3 Member States. By 2024, firewood-dependent communities and municipalities will showcase best practices and foster behavioural change. Collaborative knowledge sharing and action between municipalities, local civil society organisations (CSOs) and active citizens will foster the implementation of biomass best practices;
- Replication and transfer of solid biomass sustainability at municipal, Member State and EU level, resulting from advocacy and promotion of project approaches; and
- Wider awareness of biomass sustainability. Technical audiences will collaborate and promote LIFE BIO-BALANCE, and the public in target countries will be aware of the need for greater biomass sustainability.
While the primary purpose of the national biomass panels is to influence the 2030 NECPs and 2050strategies, the involvement of governments, NGOs and research bodies in the panel processes will generate synergies with and contribute towards the integration of LIFE BIO-BALANCE solutions into other European Green Deal environmental objectives and policy areas. The project will contribute to the "green buildings” focus area of the European Climate Pact, and it aims to influence the revision of EU-wide solid biomass sustainability criteria in the current RED II. LIFE BIO-BALANCE will increase climate actions on the national and European Climate Law levels, by developing country-level recommendations and organising dialogue of policy makers on NECPs and LTS recommendations, and at EU level by developing guidelines on NECP recommendations.
Other policy areas where the project will make a contribution include the new EU forest strategy and the EU biodiversity strategy. By promoting stronger sustainability criteria, it will positively affect the preservation of existing forests, and by promoting best practices on the national and local levels it will decrease the supply for woody biomass. LIFE BIO-BALANCE will support eligible regions to access the Just Transition Fund to support their transition to low carbon and climate-resilient activities rather than conversion of coal to biomass. By promoting the uptake of best practices in building renovation and low carbon energy generation, the project will contribute to a flagship of the EU recovery fund (NextGenerationEU). In addition, it will contribute to the objectives of the EU circular economy action plan, national objectives to reduce energy poverty and integration of this into NECPs, and the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.
- Panel stakeholders agree united national-level recommendations on biomass sustainability criteria, best practices and NECPs/LTS revisions;
- Integration by the governments of Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania of panel recommendations on stronger criteria into NECPs/LTS legislation;
- Impact of different solid biomass sustainability criteria modelled by national authorities and 3 municipalities of Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania;
- National biomass panels propose top performing policies, measures and best practices of alternatives to unsustainable biomass in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania - at least 3 recommendations taken up by each government in their NECPs;
- Biomass panels propose top recommendations for ensuring biomass sustainability in the LTS in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, reflecting the feedback of national panels;
- Adoption by the EU of stronger RED II sustainability criteria, informed by LIFE BIO-BALANCE recommendations, and at least 6 Member States using LIFE BIO-BALANCE biomass sustainability criteria by 2024 (4 following the integrated multi-stakeholder policy process to update their NECPs and 3 including at least 20 recommended policies/measures);
- At least 60 best practices shared with communities by local ambassadors, applied by a minimum of 250 firewood-dependent households;
- Sustainable biomass and biomass alternatives demonstrated in at least 3 municipalities with social, economic and environmental benefits;
- Replication of best practices using the LIFE BIO-BALANCE municipality toolset by at least 5 other local authorities and local CSOs in target CEE countries; and
- A minimum of 600 municipalities and national-level CSOs reached with project dissemination materials, and at least 150,000 individuals/households reached with online/offline awareness raising actions.