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IPCC: Bioenergy to play significant role in carbon mitigation

By Sue Retka Schill | April 16, 2014

Bioenergy plays a big role in the multiple mitigation scenarios examined in the AR5 report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and is expected to play a role in the future. “Bioenergy’s share of total regional electricity and liquid fuels is projected to be up to 35 percent and 75 percent, respectively, by 2050,” the report says.

The summary released April 13 says the transport sector, accounting for 27 percent of final energy use, could reduce energy demand by 2050 by nearly 40 percent and near-term opportunities exist for low-carbon fuels that will grow over time. In all sectors, the report says, “bioenergy can play a critical role for mitigation, but there are issues to consider, such as the sustainability of practices and the efficiency of bioenergy systems.” Of interest to those following the debate on land use change, the summary says there is robust evidence and high agreement on the statement: “The scientific debate about the overall climate impact related to land use competition effects of specific bioenergy pathways remains unresolved.” 

The final draft, released two days after the summary, presented a broad discussion of carbon mitigation. The comprehensive discussions of bioenergy treated all sides of the complex issues surrounding deforestation, forestry use, land use change and agriculture that impact all sectors from biomass power to biofuels. Though bioenergy figured in multiple chapters, a lengthy appendix to chapter 11, “Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use,” dug into more specifics.

In particular, the appendix outlines the multiple uncertainties surrounding the modeling of indirect land use change (ILUC), adding “Indirect land‐use change is mostly avoided in the modelled mitigation pathways in Chapter 6. The relatively limited fuel coverage in the literature precludes a complete set of direct comparisons across alternative and conventional fuels sought by regulatory bodies and researchers.”

The appendix also outlined some of the co-benefits realized from biofuel production, summarizing the regional benefits from sugarcane and palm oil. “Brazilian sugar cane ethanol production provides six times more jobs than the Brazilian petroleum sector and spreads income benefits across numerous municipalities. Worker income is higher than in nearly all other agricultural sectors and several sustainability standards have been adopted. When substituting gasoline, ethanol from sugarcane also eliminates lead compounds and reduces noxious emissions.” Co‐benefits of palm oil production have been reported in the major producer countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, including employment creation, increased local food production as well as positive impacts on biodiversity. The report gives similar treatment to the discussions on the downside, including displacement of small landholders and unequal distribution of some benefits in some areas.

The report also touched on the food versus fuel debate with the statement:  “Model comparison with five global economic models shows the impact on food prices due to large-scale lignocellulosic bioenergy deployment is significantly lower than the potential price effects induced by climate impacts on crop yields.”

The biofuels industry was pleased with the report. “Sunday’s report from the IPCC is further proof that biofuels contribute to local economies and that Indirect Land Use Change modelling is nothing more than a flawed theory,” stated Bliss Baker, spokesperson for the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance. He quoted the reports positive look at biofuels:  “Bioenergy projects can be economically beneficial, by raising and diversifying farm incomes and increasing rural employment through the production of biofuels for domestic or export markets.”

The IPCC report went on further to say that “Brazilian sugar cane ethanol production provides six times more jobs than the Brazilian petroleum sector and spreads income benefits across numerous municipalities…Worker income is higher than in nearly all other agricultural sectors and several sustainability standards have been adopted.”

The European Renewable Ethanol Association (ePURE) also said it wecomed the report   “The report confirms that bioenergy has a massively positive role to play in society but more research is needed to realise its full potential. The report concludes that existing uncertainties about bioenergy should not preclude society from pursuing beneficial bioenergy options that are available,” the organization said in its statement

The entire draft report from the IPCC can be found here.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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