Potential impacts of bioenergy developments on habitats & species protected under Nature Directives

This IEEP-led study examines the EU policies and associated issues at EU level that play a role in driving or mitigating bioenergy impacts on biodiversity. 

The development of renewable energy sources is crucial for achieving the EU’s energy and climate targets. However, such developments have the potential to give rise to conflicts with EU biodiversity goals. This study led by IEEP, in partnership with Arcadis, BirdLife International, NIRAS, Stella Consulting and Ecosystems Ltd, identified policy needs and gaps at the EU and national level to prevent and mitigate negative impacts of bioenergy developments on biodiversity. The scope encompassed most policies associated with the drivers of bioenergy developments and impact mitigation measures, as well as the EU Nature Directives’ protection for habitats and species.

The study is published on the website of the European Commission DG Environment in two reports. The main report reviews the current and projected future supply and demand of bioenergy reviews the relevant policies including Member State case studies, and provides good practice examples and recommendations. The annex to the report provides a detailed evidence review of impacts on EU protected habitats and species and describes the vulnerability assessment used.

It is predicted that future demand for bioenergy feedstocks will focus on woody biomass and that this could lead to increased intensity of forest management and the conversion of semi-natural grasslands and other semi-natural habitats into land used for biomass feedstock production. This could have significant impacts on vulnerable species and habitats. These impacts can, however, be mitigated by well-targeted policy interventions.

A key point is to deliver sustainable bioenergy solutions as part of the broader circular bioeconomy. This requires an understanding of the detailed sourcing of biomass and the land use and land management consequences, which can then inform targeted decision making that avoids and limits detrimental impacts and interventions. There is a need to improve the availability of information and data linking biomass demand to land use and land management change and the biodiversity consequences. More knowledge is needed of the impacts of specific practices on biodiversity, for example, the increased harvesting of entire trees with the removal of branches and root biomass from forests.

The focus of this study is feedstock production in the EU. However, it is recognised that significant areas of land outside the EU are deployed to meet the needs of Europe’s bioenergy feedstock demands, and other biomass-based industries and these can be associated with major biodiversity impacts. Moreover, there is a dynamic interplay between changes in land uses inside the EU, changes in demand for imports, and the impacts on biodiversity beyond the EU’s borders.

What recommendations does the study make to enable biomass use for energy that supports the conservation of protected habitats and species in the EU?

  • Ensure that existing impact assessment tools (such as EIA) are implemented effectively and in a way that identifies and mitigates impacts associated with bioenergy feedstock production.
  • Ensure effective implementation of policies to protect against inappropriate land-use change on agricultural land. This includes rules to protect permanent grassland under the CAP, such as the designation of environmentally sensitive permanent grassland.
  • Strengthen the implementation of sustainable forest management - including a strengthened ability to consistently and effectively mitigate potential impacts associated with an increase in demand for woody biomass from forests.
  • Facilitate, support and enable ‘better and best practices’ to secure sustainable supply chains. For example, the report describes the German MULLE initiative to certify sustainable residues from landscape management (e.g. hedge cuttings) for biogas.
  • Strengthen coverage and coherence of data sets to facilitate understanding and enable informed dialogue on risks and impacts.

The full report can be found on the European Commission's website