Moving the debate on sustainable bioenergy to 2030

Biomass use for energy currently constitutes a significant proportion of Europe’s renewable energy. The current policy framework in Europe offers regulatory guidance up to 2020. However, there is a pressing need for a longer-term policy guiding the use of bioenergy over the next debate and longer.

On 30th November, the European Commission published a “Winter package” of policy proposals, among which a revised Renewable Energy Directive up to 2030. Although encouraging in that it provides a first answer to the many requests for policy certainty going forward, a number of key questions about the right and most appropriate approach to deliver sustainable bioenergy still remain and need further scrutiny, in addition to key questions such as the role of national targets in driving delivery of investment in renewables.

On the basis of our work on sustainable bioenergy, the following issues need to be addressed:

  • - While there are differing views on the longer-term role for biomass in a fully decarbonised energy system, sustainably sourced biomass, used as replacement for fossil fuels, can help to reduce GHG emissions and increase Energy security in Europe in the short term, and should be encouraged;
  • - However, bioenergy is not sustainable by default and requires regulatory guidance to ensure sustainability in practice. The acceptability of using biomass for energy in EU rests, in fact, on its sustainability as a renewable and low carbon energy source;
  • - Ensuring that bioenergy is environmentally responsible is vital for the policy to be justifiable, and requires the consideration of a wide range of interrelated factors, including: the methods of production and harvesting; existing uses; direct and indirect land use impacts; understanding waste management and residue use; environmental, social and economic consequences; as well as trade and inter-institutional factors across a wide range of sectors;
  • - In particular, managing forests sustainably is crucial to ensure their role in the bioeconomy, but more importantly for bioenergy is ensuring a focus on sustainable carbon management in all forest management across the EU. Accounting for LULUCF emissions and removals will not be enough to guide and promote good carbon management on the ground.

IEEP will continue to be active in producing evidence-based, multi-disciplinary and cross sectoral analysis, as well as advancing understanding on the use of sustainable bioenergy in Europe. Our work focuses on issues such as carbon debt, cascading use, counterfactual land and resource use, as well as developing carbon accounting frameworks and the integration of resource efficiency principle into sectoral policies. We advise EU and Member States law/decision-makers, academics, regulatory authorities, industry and NGOs.

For more information on our work in this area read our two-pager, or contact Ben Allen (ballen@ieep.eu), Catherine Bowyer (cbowyer@ieep.eu) or Silvia Nanni (snanni@ieep.eu).