Land use change impacts of biofuels discussed at European Parliament seminar

Jan 2018

On 10 January 2018, a seminar was held at the European Parliament in Brussels on the topic “What does science tell us about biofuels?”. The seminar was organized by IEA Bioenergy, the Swedish 2030 Secretariat and Chalmers University of Technology.

The authors of the so-called Globiom report were invited to give background on their conclusions. The report, which was commissioned by the European Commission and published in 2015, addressed land use change impacts of biofuels consumed in the EU, and has been widely discussed. The relevance of biofuels in the frame of future decarbonisation of the transport sector was also discussed based on the conclusions of the recent 2017 IEA Technology Roadmap on Bioenergy.

Some highlights of the seminar:

  • Overall, the role of biofuels to bridge part of the decarbonisation in transport is very important. In the 2DS scenario of IEA (focused on reaching the climate targets agreed in the Paris Agreement) energy efficiency measures, electrification and sustainable biofuels are complementary key measures in transport. Biofuelswould represent around 30% of energy consumption in transport by 2060. Their role is particularly important in sectors which are difficult to decarbonize, like aviation, shipping and other long-haul transport.
  • Land use change modelling – like the Globiom initiative – evaluates a specific policy, and depending on the policy, the impacts per feedstock will be different, e.g. depending on market growth rates and accompanying measures. So iLUC emission factors are not fixed numbers, and should not just be added to LCA GHG emissions of a certain pathway.
  • Some biofuels have more risks of iLUC, with highest risk currently related to palm oil production. Nevertheless, there are ways to manage and reduce iLUC impacts. iLUC is much lower when focusing on restoring abandoned agricultural land; a lot of agricultural land is abandoned for economic reasons, also in Europe. Land use change emissions can even be ‘negative’ for lignocellulosic crops, which means that soils sequester more carbon than in the reference case. This implies that land use change can be positive.
  • If adequate measures are taken to reduce deforestation and peatland oxidation (through other dedicated policies) indirect land use change impacts would be very low, also for crop based biofuels. This would be the case if all countries – particularly in Southeast Asia – would comply with the agreements on LULUCF made at the COP21 in Paris.
  • Overall, land use governance is key to limit land use change impacts!

The presentations and a summary will be available shortly at