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Assessing bioenergy for climate change mitigation

Last modified December 04, 2014 12:47

by Felix Creutzig

The use of  bioenergy for climate change mitigation remains contested. The solution part of the 5th IPCC assessment report claims that bioenergy, especially in combination with BECCS, is the single most important technology for achieving ambitious climate change mitigation goals. However, the report also reveals that this technology is highly speculative and its mitigation potential, environmental and social outcomes are a function of a considerable number of contextual variables. The results can be found in the appendix of Chapter 11 of the report, which has also been published separately as a review paper in GCB-B, labeled “Bioenergy and climate change mitigation: an assessment” by Creutzig et al. (22 authors). The paper comes up with a number of pointed conclusions agreed upon by authors from very different methodological approaches and communities.

· How much biomass for energy is technically available in the future depends on the evolution of a multitude of social, political and economic factors, e.g. land tenure and regulation, diets, trade and technology. Under ideal circumstances about 100 EJ could be harvested at low social and environmental risk; higher potentials could be possible but are increasingly associated with higher risks.

· The economic potential of BECCS is uncertain but could lie in the range of 2-10 GtCO2 per year in 2050.

· Advanced combustion biomass cookstoves reduce fuel use by more than 60% and hazardous pollutants as well as short-lived climate pollutants by up to 90%.

· Assessing land-use mitigation options should include evaluating biogeophysical impacts, such as albedo modifications, as their size may be comparable to impacts from changes to the C cycle.

· Fuels from sugarcane, perennial grasses, crop residues and waste cooking oil and many forest products have lower attributional life-cycle emissions than other fuels, depending on N2O emissions, fuel used in conversion process, forest carbon dynamics, and other site-specific factors and counterfactual dynamics (land use change emissions can still be substantial, see Figure 5).

· Land use change associated with bioenergy implementation can have a strong influence on the climate benefit. Indirect land use effects and other consequential changes are difficult to model and uncertain, but are nonetheless relevant for policy analysis.

· LUC impacts can be mitigated through: reduced land demand for food, fibre and bioenergy (e.g. diets, yields, efficient use of biomass such as utilizing waste and residues); synergies between different land use systems using adapted feedstocks (e.g. use hardy plants to cultivate degraded lands not suitable for conventional food crops); and governance systems and development models to protect ecosystems and promote sustainable land use practices where land is converted to make place for biomass production.

· Overall outcomes may depend strongly on governance of land use, increased yields, and deployment of best practices in agricultural, forestry and biomass production.

· The management of natural resources to provide needs for human society whilst recognizing environmental balance is the challenge facing society. Good governance is an essential component of a sustainable energy system.

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