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2022 April 06

Bioenergy “important” to fighting climate change, IPCC scientists say in latest report

The IPCC’s latest report has reiterated the need for bioenergy at a much larger scale than today to combat runaway climate change. The report says:

  1. Bioenergy offers an “important” way to mitigate climate change. This is consistent with the IPCC’s previous scientific estimates, the report says. (Ch.7, p.6)
  2. Much more bioenergy is needed to limit climate change. The IPCC’s models project bioenergy use to rise significantly, from 30 Exajoules at present, to between 75 and 248 EJ by 2050, in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is within the body’s estimate for sustainable sourcing of bio-based fuels, taking into account environmental and food security constraints. (Ch.3, p.57)
  3. Carbon capture is vital. Carbon dioxide removal technologies, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), are “unavoidable if net zero CO2 or GHG emissions are to be achieved.” (SPM, p.47)
  4. “Bioenergy could be a high-value and large-scale mitigation option to support many different parts of the energy system. Bioenergy could be particularly valuable for sectors with limited alternatives to fossil fuels (e.g., aviation, heavy industry) and production of chemicals and products and carbon dioxide removal via BECCS or biochar.” (Ch. 6, p.39)
  5. Additional benefits: “Climate-smart forestry” allows production of bioenergy alongside improvements to nature conservation and biodiversity, local economics and carbon storage. (Ch.7, p.78)
  6. Strong regulation is crucial. The report advises policy makers and stakeholders to “draw on lessons from experience…”, noting that socio-economic and environmental trade-offs   “can be avoided by well-implemented land-based mitigation options,” including well-developed regulations and best practice. (SPM, pp.44, 53).

 "The fact that the use of woody biomass under the right conditions leads to less net CO2 emissions than combustion of coal or gas is virtually undisputed within science, as is also apparent from the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)." 

Dr Gert-Jan Nabuurs

IPCC report co-author - October 2021

Bioenergy, which uses organic materials and wastes as fuel, helps to displace reliance on fossil fuels and could be particularly valuable for sectors with limited alternatives to fossil fuels, such as aviation and other hard-to-abate industries, say scientific advisors.

Combining bioenergy with ‘carbon capture and storage’ could double the potential role of bioenergy in reducing humanity’s carbon emissions (TS, p.86)

Modern bioenergy currently provides around 53% of the world’s renewable energy (IEA). This comes from purpose-grown crops, by-products from forestry and agriculture, and waste materials. These fuels, when sourced sustainably, help to replace damaging fossil fuels. They can be used in electricity, heat and transport, as well as decarbonising hard-to-decarbonise industries like steel and cement making. 

Representatives from across the bioenergy industry welcomed the report’s emphasis on tighter regulation to ensure sustainability so bioenergy delivers positive impacts for the climate, environment and communities. At COP26, industry members signed the “Glasgow Declaration on Sustainable Bioenergy” setting out 16 principles for sourcing sustainable bioenergy that can form the foundation for regulations.

Quotes from industry organisations:

Dr Christian Rakos, President of the World Bioenergy Association (WBA), said:

"The scientists at the UN's IPCC have once again confirmed the importance of bioenergy for mitigating climate change. Sustainable bioenergy can displace fossil fuels and deliver negative emissions, which the IPCC says are necessary to achieve Net Zero both at a global and national level.

"We welcome the IPCC's focus on sustainability and regulation to ensure that well-managed bioenergy delivers positive climate, environmental and social outcomes. 

"The science is clear. We need every tool in the toolbox to mitigate climate change and hold down global warming as much as possible. Sustainable bioenergy is a crucial part of the pathway to Net Zero, and the world must act now to scale up this important climate solution."  

Dr Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA), said:

“The IPCC’s scientists have again said that sustainable bioenergy is essential for achieving net zero and avoiding catastrophic climate change both as a provider of renewable energy and a way to remove carbon from the atmosphere.”

“The science is clear - sustainable bioenergy use needs to scale up rapidly around the world and we support the IPCC’s focus on sustainability and robust regulations to ensure that biomass delivers benefits for our climate, environment and communities.”

A spokesperson for The United States Industrial Pellet Association (USIPA) said 

Today’s IPCC Working Group III report is the definitive guide on how to mitigate climate change, and its findings are unequivocal that sustainable bioenergy is an essential part of the solution. The IPCC has long recognized the indispensable role of sustainable bioenergy in reaching net-zero, and today’s report puts this in the clearest terms yet stating, “Bioenergy has the potential to be a high-value and large-scale mitigation option to support many different parts of the energy system.”

We welcome and support the IPCC’s emphasis on the importance of sustainable forest management as a precondition to ensure biomass delivers positive outcomes for the climate and environment. Scientific research backed by real-world data continues to show that the US Southeast is a sustainable and dependable sourcing area, that can help meet growing demand abroad while providing important ecological and economic benefits at home.    

The unmistakable message from today’s IPCC report is the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels. This is the core purpose of sustainable biomass, which has displaced millions of tons of fossil fuels, and will play an even greater role on our net-zero journey in decarbonizing the power, heat, transport and heavy industry sectors, while also delivering critical negative emissions through BECCS.

Jean-Marc Jossart, Secretary-General of Bioenergy Europe said:

Bioenergy Europe welcomes the new IPCC WGIII Report on Mitigation of Climate Change. Scientists once more confirm the need for urgent measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to end fossil fuels use.

The report validates that sustainable biomass remains a solid ally to accelerate the green transition and eventually reach a climate neutral economy in the EU by 2050. It is an integral part of the EU’s efforts to achieve the ambitious climate and energy targets envisaged within the European Green Deal.

Globally, bioenergy already enables the replacement of millions of tonnes of fossil fuels in some of the sectors that are the hardest to decarbonise such as industry, heating, and transport. The IPCC recognises that bioenergy will continue to remain an important contributor to emissions reductions. Negative emissions technologies such as Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) are, once more, confirmed as viable options to “reduce emissions from large-scale fossil-based energy and industry sources”.

The upscaling of bioenergy, along with other renewables, needs to be fully supported through a solid, consistent, and implementable policy framework to ensure a functioning market and prevent the discouragement of investments which would jeopardise achieving the EU’s climate neutrality goal.

The IPCC report sends a strong signal on the potential of bioenergy within the limits of feedstock availability, through established Sustainable Forest Management practices essential to preserve biodiversity and forest health, and strict sustainability rules. The bioenergy sector is leading the way to achieve our climate and energy objectives.

A spokesperson for Enviva said:

“Today’s IPCC report provides the world’s most authoritative scientific and policy-making analysis on how to mitigate climate change, and re-affirms the indispensable role of sustainable biomass. All pathways that limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C include substantial use of biomass because of its versatility in both reducing and removing emissions at scale. 

“Sustainable biomass has been a cornerstone in decarbonizing Europe’s power and heating sectors, and is increasingly recognized as an innovative solution for hard to abate industries like steel, cement and aviation. The science is clear, the use of sustainable biomass must increase rapidly to help meet our national and global net zero goals.”

Drax CEO Will Gardiner said:

“The latest IPCC report clearly states the critical role for sustainable biomass and the need for carbon removals from technologies such as BECCS to meet global climate targets. It’s time to put words into action and begin scaling up these important technologies.

“We support the report’s increased focus on sustainability and agree that it’s vital that the feedstocks used deliver climate, environmental and social benefits and we’re confident that this is aligned with the biomass we're using."