13 January 2017

Bioenergy policy with forest protection better for climate mitigation 

Greenhouse gas emissions from the land-use sector will be lower if the rising demand for bioenergy is met with worldwide protection for areas important for biodiversity and carbon storage.     

© AdobeStock

© AdobeStock

Protecting biodiversity and carbon storage worldwide could lead to global greenhouse gas emissions from the land-use sector 10 metric megatons lower than without protections, according to a new study conducted by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) for the European Commission. The study assessed the greenhouse gas implications of different policies for bioenergy and forest protection.

“Bioenergy is demand set to rise in coming years, as it isa key type of renewable energy, but there are major uncertainties about the impacts on biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions,” says IIASA researcher Nicklas Forsell, who led the study. “We found that there are clear synergies between conserving biodiversity, protecting unused forests, and reducing global emissions from the land-use sector.”

With the 2030 EU renewable target enshrined in the newly proposed EU Renewable Energy Directive, projections suggest that the demand for bioenergy will rise. However, the impacts of this increase on greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and biodiversity are not well understood. The new research builds on previous work led by IIASA—Study on Impacts on Resource Efficiency of Future EU Demand for Bioenergy—examining more explicitly the consequences of pursuing different bioenergy policies from 2010-2050. The report provided crucial input for the European Commission’s new Sustainability Policy for Bioenergy.  

The researchers assessed different policy options using the IIASA Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM) and Global Forest Model (G4M). The study showed that an emissions reduction scenario, with a target of an 80% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and no forest protections, would result in a rise in the amount of wood pellets imported into the EU, wood harvested from EU forests, and area of land used for fast-growing tree plantations.

A scenario with worldwide protections in place for biodiversity and carbon storage, however, was significantly more effective for emissions savings. By 2050, net global emissions from the land-use sector would be 10 metric megatons of CO2 lower with protections than in the emissions reduction scenario.

Under the protections scenario, EU imports of pellets would fall, and the use of domestic wood would rise. It should be noted that the biodiversity and carbon storage protections in this scenario would apply to all wood uses, not energy alone, and a policy taking only bioenergy into account would be less effective.

“Our results highlighted the importance of examining the global implications of EU policy,” says Anu Korosuo, IIASA researcher and coauthor. “Increased bioenergy demand in the EU also affects other regions, as EU imports increase. This may lead to more global emissions from the land-use sector if areas with high biodiversity values and carbon storages are not protected.”  

The work also examined the impacts of capping the amount of high-quality logs that could be used for bioenergy. When combined with biodiversity and carbon storage protections, this led to even greater greenhouse gas emissions savings worldwide, while also ensuring a more efficient use of wood.

Finally, researchers assessed the effect of rising bioenergy demands on other related industries. Under ambitious emissions targets, the researchers found that sawmills become more profitable as they are able to sell wood shavings and other by-products for bioenergy generation. However, particleboard producers suffer from the increased price of these wood by-products.


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Last edited: 13 January 2017


Nicklas Forsell

Senior Research Scholar Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program

Bioenergy in the EU: IIASA Policy brief

Models and data

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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