Land use for bioenergy: synergies and trade-offs between Sustainable Development Goals
Open-access scientific paper in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, developed with support of IEA Bioenergy Task 45 (Climate and sustainability). Available at:
The key reason for deploying bioenergy is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contribute to climate change mitigation targets. However, several sustainability concerns are associated with bioenergy, especially related to the impacts of using land for dedicated energy crop production. Using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework, this paper identified the main synergies and trade-offs associated with land use for dedicated energy crop production and identified the context-specific conditions (i.e., biomass feedstock, previous land use, climate, soil type and agricultural management) which affect those synergies and trade-offs. Most synergies with environmentally-related SDGs, such as water quality and biodiversity conservation, were observed when perennial crops were produced on arable land, pasture or marginal land in temperate regions and clayey soils. Most trade-offs were related to food security and water availability. The study showed that previous land use and feedstock type are key determinants for synergies and trade-offs. This study highlights the importance of considering context-specific conditions in evaluating synergies and trade-offs and their relevance for developing appropriate policies and practices to meet worldwide demand for bioenergy in a sustainable manner.
- There are many synergies and trade-offs between the impacts of land use for dedicated energy crop production on sustainable development goals (SDG)
- For most SDGs both synergies and trade-offs occur. Whether synergies or trade-offs occur highly depends on contextual factors, e.g. biomass feedstock, previous land use, climate and soil conditions, management applied.
- Utilizing marginal land to produce perennial crops is a key strategy as it can avoid trade-offs with other land-based services such as food, feed, and fiber production.
Reducing GHG emissions to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is crucial for avoiding serious impacts from climate change. Bioenergy is expected to play an essential role in future energy. However, the use of land for dedicated energy can result in co-benefits (synergies) as well as trade-offs with other sustainable development goals (SDGs) such as zero hunger (SDG2), Life on land (SDG15), and clean water and sanitation (SDG 6). Whether land use for dedicated energy crops leads to synergies or trade-offs depends on various context-specific conditions. This study synthesizes research on synergies and trade-offs between SDGs associated with land use for dedicated energy crops. Furthermore, we assess the context-specific conditions under which sustainability synergies or trade-offs are found.
The study findings suggest that using land for dedicated energy crops results overall in almost an equivalent number of synergies and trade-offs between SDG 13 (Climate action) and other SDGs. For almost all SDGs both synergies and trade-offs were found. More synergies were found for SDGs 3 (good health and well-being), 13 (climate action, other indicators than GHG emission reduction), 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land) , and more trade-offs for SDGs 2 (zero hunger), 6 (clean water and sanitation) and 8 (decent work and economic growth).
A combination of context-specific conditions influences synergies and trade-offs. Most synergies were observed when perennial crops were produced on marginal land, previous arable land or pasture in temperate regions with clayey soils. Regardless of the feedstock type, allocating natural or semi-natural areas, including forests, to the production of dedicated energy crops generally leads to trade-offs. Previous land use and feedstock type are the key determinants for the occurrence of synergies or trade-offs.
Utilizing marginal land to produce perennial crops is a key strategy as it can avoid trade-offs with other land-based services such as food, feed, and fiber production. This study highlights the importance of considering context-specific conditions to analyze synergies and trade-offs between the impacts of using land for dedicated energy crop production of the sustainable development goals to allow for informing appropriate policies and practices to meet worldwide demand for bioenergy sustainably.