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Posted on on January 13th, 2017
by Pincas Jawetz (

IIASA Policy Brief #15 – January 2017

Resource efficiency of future EU demand for bioenergy.…

EU bioenergy demand is set to rise sharply. We examine the impacts on land use,
greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity, both inside and outside the region.

? Increasing demand for bioenergy in the EU means that there is a pressing need to
understand the impacts this might have on land use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,
and biodiversity, both regionally and globally.
? In this brief we examine the results of modeled policy scenarios to explore how
these factors are affected.
? All other factors being equal, a scenario where the EU target of an 80% reduction
in GHG emissions by 2050 is met leads to a rise in: wood pellet imports, the amount
of wood harvested from EU forests, and in the area of land used for short rotation
coppicing (fast-growing tree plantations).
? There are clear synergies between conserving biodiversity; protecting unused forests
and avoiding the conversion of natural land; and reducing global GHG emissions from
the land-use sector.
? Restricting the use of land that has high biodiversity value, or high carbon stocks,
means global emissions savings from the land-use sector.
? The results also highlight the importance of examining the global implications of
EU policy. When biodiversity and carbon storage are protected, for instance, EU
land-use emissions increase, although they fall on a global scale. As well as rising
EU emissions, more EU-grown wood that is of sufficient quality to use for other
wooden products is used directly for bioenergy.
? Capping the amount of high-quality wood that can be used directly for bioenergy,
in addition to biodiversity or carbon storage protection, results in even greater
global emissions savings.

In the EU, the use of bioenergy (see box: What is bioenergy?) is on
the rise. This is due to an increased focus on renewable energy,
intended to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase
energy security. However, the impact of increased bioenergy
use on land use, GHG emissions, and biodiversity is not fully
understood. Nor do we know how a surge in demand for bioenergy
might impact related industries using the same feedstock such as
wood pulp producers, sawmills, or particle board producers. The
aim of the Resource efficiency impacts of future EU bioenergy
demand report, and its follow-up report, is therefore to examine
the consequences of pursuing different bioenergy policy pathways
from 2010-2050 by building a series of possible future scenarios,
using the IIASA Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM)
and Global Forest Model (G4M). © tchara |

The differences in GHG emissions between the basic emissions reduction scenario and the
LAND scenario (which restricts use of areas with high biodiversity and carbon storage)
and the CAP scenario (which also includes restrictions on use of high-quality roundwood).
What is bioenergy?

Although there are various types, in this brief we focus on
bioenergy generated by burning biomass, in this case, plant
matter. Many different types of woody biomass can be used
for bioenergy. Firewood is widely used for domestic heating,
for instance. Larger-scale bioenergy production might use
wood pellets, which are dense, compressed pellets. In the
EU these are mostly made from industrial by-products such as
wood chips, sawdust, or shavings. In this brief we also discuss
the likely increasing use of roundwood, defined here as logs
that are of sufficient quality to be used for wooden products
such as plywood or planks, but are used for energy production
instead. Another source of fuel for bioenergy that may become
increasingly important is short rotation coppices—intensively
harvested, fast-growing tree plantations grown on agricultural
land. Increasing demand for these feedstocks can have
important impacts on land use, GHG emissions, and biodiversity.
Furthermore, globalized trade means that demand in the EU can
affect the rest of the world and vice versa, as has already been
seen, for example, with increased EU imports of wood pellets
from the USA.

Possible futures

The Baseline Scenario depicts the target of a 20% reduction of
emissions in the EU28 by 2020, and runs to 2050, providing a point
of comparison for other policy directions.
In this scenario, increased demand for bioenergy will lead to a
considerable increase in EU production of woody biomass by 2030
(as much as 10% more than in 2010). Industrial by-products, such as
sawdust and wood chips, will become increasingly in demand, and
more land will be used for short rotation coppices (see box: What
is bioenergy?). In addition, harvesting in EU forests intensifies, and
roundwood imports increase. From 2030 to 2050, the EU domestic
production of biomass stabilizes.
EU reliance on imported biomass also increases—in particular wood
pellet imports will rise by 90% by 2030 compared to 2010. Since
estimates suggest that outside the EU a large share of wood pellets
are made from roundwood—and therefore require direct forest
harvesting—these imports may have important consequences for
biodiversity loss and land use change outside the EU.
The EU Emission Reduction Scenario (now updated in the
report: Follow-up study on impacts on resource efficiency of future
EU demand for bioenergy) examines the additional policy target
of decreasing GHG emissions by 80% by 2050 in the EU.
As the demand for bioenergy in this scenario rises sharply to meet
GHG emissions reduction targets, there is an increasing need for
all forms of feedstock. The reliance on imported pellets increases
seven-fold from 10 million cubic meters in 2010 to 70 million in
2050, with possibly serious implications for global biodiversity
loss. Short rotation coppices are also expanded to cope with the
stark rise in demand. Large quantities of EU-grown roundwood,
which could otherwise have been used to produce wooden goods,
are also burnt for energy.
These demands also affect land use in the EU, and along with
the increase in coppice plantations there is a rise in forest area
of almost 14 million hectares by 2050 compared to 2010. The
land converted to forest and coppice plantations is generally
natural land, such as abandoned cropland or unused grassland.

As demand for wood as a material and a source of energy grows,
forests become more intensively harvested in the EU, with the
amount of wood harvested reaching a level 12% higher in 2050 than
in 2010. Such intense use of forests is likely to have serious impacts
on European wildlife, hastening biodiversity decline in the region.

Importing wood, exporting pressure

The reliance on imports in the emissions reduction scenario raises
the difficult question of whether the EU will simply export the
problems of land use and biodiversity decline elsewhere. The
Increased EU Biomass Import Scenario investigates what would
happen if this was taken to the extreme, by decreasing the trade
costs in the model. As expected, EU imports of roundwood and
wood pellets are significantly higher than in both the baseline and
the emissions reductions scenarios. While this takes the pressure
off EU forests, as harvests do not increase as fast as they otherwise
would, it exports biodiversity and land-use issues to the rest of the
world. GHG emissions from the land-use sector in the EU fall, but
global land-use emissions are similar to the baseline scenario.
However, it is likely that other countries will also see an increase
for bioenergy demand as they attempt to switch away from fossil
fuels. In a world where countries outside the EU are using their
own biomass resources, rather than exporting them, net EU
imports of wood pellets are 25% lower than without this effect.
In addition, EU roundwood imports decrease by more than 20% in
2050. This requires the EU to substantially increase the amount of
biomass it produces through domestic short rotation coppicing.

Sustainability for the future

One of the major concerns over bioenergy is the amount of land
needed to provide the fuel, and whether this will encroach onto
natural land that is important for biodiversity or carbon storage.
To investigate this issue, researchers used the LAND Scenario,
which restricts biomass harvests in areas with high biodiversity
value, high carbon stocks, or both (HBVCS areas). Under this
restriction, collection of biomass from HBVCS areas in the EU
was limited and the conversion of HBVCS areas was forbidden
all around the world. Because these restrictions were applied
regardless of whether the use of resources was for bioenergy or
not, they had far-reaching effects beyond bioenergy policy.
The restrictions lead to a global reduction in the availability of wood.
EU pellet imports fall, and the use of domestic biomass resources
rises; the amount of EU roundwood combusted directly for bioenergy
is 23% higher in 2050 than in the emissions reduction scenario. This
scenario leads to a net global emissions saving in the land-use sector
of 10 megatonnes of CO2 (Mt CO2) in 2050, compared to the emissions
reductions scenario.

It is important to bear in mind that the goal of climate mitigation is to
reduce emissions worldwide, not just from the EU. This is highlighted
by this scenario, which shows that while global emissions fall,
emissions from the land-use sector in the EU increase compared to the
emissions reduction scenario (about 4 Mt CO2 higher in 2050). This is
because without protections for biodiversity and carbon storage, the
EU imports large quantities of wood for bioenergy, simply transferring
emissions to other regions.

Another major concern over bioenergy relates to the efficient use
of biomass; burning roundwood that is of high enough quality to
be used for wooden products is a wasted opportunity. After all, if
a tree is used to make a table, at the end of its useful life the table
itself can be burnt and used to produce energy, increasing resource
efficiency. To examine what would happen if a cap was placed on
the amount of roundwood that could be used directly and indirectly
for energy after 2020, a CAP scenario was built.
As a result of the cap, the amount of wood pellets imported into
the EU falls, since a large share of pellets from outside the EU are
made from high-quality roundwood. The resulting gap in fuel for
bioenergy in the EU is filled through use of industrial by-products,
such as sawdust or shavings. The demand for these by-products
increases their market value, meaning that sawmills become more
profitable and their numbers rise. There is also an effect on the
pulp and board industries, which shift towards use of roundwood
as the price of by-products rises.

This roundwood CAP scenario is more effective for climate mitigation
than the LAND Scenario, leading to net global emissions saving
in the land-use sector of around 15 Mt CO2 in 2050 compared
to the emissions reduction scenario; this is, however, more than
compensated by decreased emissions in the rest of the world.

IIASA Policy Briefs present the latest research for policymakers from
IIASA—an international, interdisciplinary research institute with
National Member Organizations (NMOs) in 24 countries in Africa, the
Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. The views expressed herein are
those of the researchers and not necessarily those of IIASA or its NMOs.
This brief is based on the work by forest scientists, economists, and
policy analysts at IIASA, Öko-Institut e.V., Institute for European
Environmental Policy, European Forest Institute, and Indufor Oy. The
consortium was led by Nicklas Forsell, research scholar at the IIASA
Ecosystems Services and Management Program. The research received
funding from the European Commission within the contract ENV.F.1/
ETU/2013/0033 and ENV.F.1./ETU/2015/Ares(2015)5117224.
More IIASA publications are available at

Further information

This modeling work stemmed from the EU Reference Scenario
2013, which details the EU energy, transport and GHG emissions
trends to 2050. The assumptions for energy demand for the
Reference Scenario 2013 are estimated using the PRIMES EU-wide
Energy Model. The work described in this policy brief was published
in two waves, the first was published in the Study on impacts on
resource efficiency of future EU demand for bioenergy (ReceBio)
[], and the second in the Follow-up study on
impacts on resource efficiency of future EU demand for bioenergy
(ReceBio follow-up) [].

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