WS27 Summary Report: Bioenergy and Sustainable Development – Climate Change Mitigation and Opportunities for Sustainability Co-Benefits

Sep 2022

IEA Bioenergy held its biannual workshop on 23-24 May 2022 in conjunction with its Executive Committee meeting (ExCo89).

The workshop on ‘Bioenergy and Sustainable Development’ was held in virtual form and was organised in collaboration with the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) and the Biofuture Platform.

The workshop consisted of two separate sessions:
1. Bioenergy and climate change mitigation
2. Sustainability co-benefits of bioenergy beyond climate

Each session consisted of keynote presentations, followed by a panel discussion.


Summary report: ExCo89 Workshop – Summary Report

Workshop webpage: WS27: Bioenergy and Sustainable Development – Climate Change Mitigation and Opportunities for Sustainability Co-Benefits


Key conclusions:

Bioenergy will make an important contribution to climate change mitigation; it represents between 15 and 30% of primary energy supply 2050 in global scenarios that limit warming to 1.5°C. The relative importance of different bioenergy options varies depending on the anticipated development for other non-bioenergy options. Apart from waste and residues, biomass from dedicated cultivation systems will also be needed as bioenergy feedstock.

Deep reductions in net GHG emissions are needed in the coming decades to limit the rate of warming and peak temperature. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere can contribute to these near-term objectives and will in addition be unavoidable to counterbalance hard-to-abate residual emissions to reach net-zero emission targets. Bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is one of the key CDR options.

As for other products and human activities, judging bioenergy’s sustainability requires consideration of a wide range of factors which can be context specific, such as climate and soil conditions, previous land use, biomass feedstock and land management practice, and socioeconomic conditions. Bioenergy is inherently multi-faceted and commonly part of land-based systems that provide multiple products along with other ecosystem services.

Apart from climate change mitigation, bioenergy systems and biomass supply chains can have important environmental and socio-economic co-benefits that can be important motivation for bioenergy deployment. There can also be trade-offs, e.g., with food production and biodiversity, which need to be managed in environmentally and socially sustainable ways through good governance practice.

There are important opportunities for developing countries to shift away from traditional bioenergy and fossil fuels towards modern, sustainable bioenergy as part of a circular economy approach. This can provide opportunities for land-use diversification and employment creation, reduce health problems related to air pollution, and support restoration of degraded lands.

Energy crops can be grown as part of integrated agricultural production systems, such as double cropping, intercropping and agroforestry approaches, or on abandoned, marginal or degraded lands. Integrated land management in agriculture deserves more attention in policy making as well as global modelling studies.

Multifunctional perennial bioenergy crops can be part of improved land and water management practices, adapted to different goals. With relatively minimal intervention, substantial ecosystem benefits can be achieved such as a reduction in eutrophication, soil erosion, and soil carbon losses.

Forest management – including harvesting and managing stem densities and species composition – contributes to rejuvenation and reduced risk of wildfires. Management helps maintain forest growth, allowing sustained harvesting, and managed forests have proven in several locations (e.g., in boreal regions) to perform better than unmanaged forests concerning both carbon stocks and carbon accumulation rate. While the contribution of old forests to net emissions reduction may be small, their conservation may be motivated for other reasons, not the least biodiversity protection.

Communicating on good practice, good governance and win-win approaches is key! We need to inform policy makers how policy design and governance can manage trade-offs, and highlight good practice examples that contribute benefits like rural job creation, supporting ecosystems and creating a local alternative for fossil fuels. Messages should be simple and should connect good practices and good governance approaches with local conditions, in language that is meaningful to the audience.