Climate and Sustainability Effects of Bioenergy within the broader Bioeconomy

Work Programme


T45 will identify and address critical issues related to climate and other sustainability effects of bioenergy and other biobased products and systems. The objective is to promote sound development for bioenergy as an integral component of the overall bioeconomy. This objective will be achieved by providing analyses that support well-informed decisions by land owners, communities, businesses, governments and others. One key goal is to increase understanding of the environmental, social and economic effects of producing and using biomass for bioenergy, within the broader bioeconomy. A central aspect concerns the development and application of science-based methodologies and tools for assessing the effects of biobased systems to contribute to available knowledge and experiences.

More specifically, the Task aims to:

  1. Develop, refine, compare and promote suitable metrics, methods and tools for assessing the climate and sustainability impacts of bioenergy systems. Methods for assessing GHG emissions and removals and other climate forcers represent a focus area (WP1), as well as other environmental, economic and social criteria and indicators (WP2) relevant for bioenergy and the broader bioeconomy. Methods for analysing and mapping ecosystem services in landscapes are required to inform governance and spatially explicit deployment strategies that meet multiple objectives. The Task will not primarily undertake new assessments of individual systems but will rather collect, synthesize and disseminate results and learning from existing assessments, including studies produced by other IEA Bioenergy Tasks, assessments completed by IPBES, and others. Assessments and analyses will focus on developing, improving, comparing and promoting methods and tools.
  2. Identify how regulatory systems governing land use and bioenergy supply chains can be improved in terms of abilities to monitor, assess and promote achievement of economic, social, and environmental goals while considering objectives of land owners, biomass users, and society as a whole.
  3. Foster international collaboration and shared views on key technical and methodological issues. Discuss needs, possibilities and limitations of global, uniform/harmonized assessment and governance frameworks (WP3). The Task will seek key roles in evaluation and further development of existing assessment methodologies and governance models;
  4. Aid decision makers in identifying and promoting implementation strategies that reflect local/regional context as well as corresponding developments in legislation and policies (WP3). Special focus will be placed on the implementation of the SDGs and energy-climate-land-water synergies in terms of agriculture/forestry and bioenergy integration. This includes addressing issues associated with land use intensification, LUC, as well as reclamation/improved use of marginal and degraded lands in the context of integrated land use planning in pursuit of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN).


Objectives WP1 – Metrics, methods, and tools for assessing climate change effects of bioenergy

WP1 builds on the work of Task 38 and its predecessor tasks, that operate at the science-policy interface, contributing balanced and science-based input to the ongoing debate on the climate effects of bioenergy. Since establishment in 1995, these Tasks have worked to develop and promote scientifically-sound approaches for quantifying the climate effects of different bioenergy systems. These tasks have contributed to i) the development of methods for reporting and accounting for national greenhouse gas inventories under the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol, ii) development of rules for project level accounting for emissions trading and product certification, and iii) national policies on renewable energy.

Task 38 has published many papers and reports, some jointly with other Tasks, demonstrating the ‘standard methodology for GHG balance assessment’, highlighting specific methodological aspects, and providing guidance on choosing the appropriate methods to assess climate effects of bioenergy. Recently, Task 38 members have led the revision of the IPCC guidelines for accounting for wood products, and have contributed to revision of the ISO standard for carbon footprint of products and life cycle assessment (LCA). The topics are sometimes difficult to disseminate to a layman audience, but the details addressed are important: how these matters are handled has a huge impact on the bioenergy industry because it influences decisions on eligibility of feedstocks and technologies in renewable energy schemes, for example, which ultimately determines the demand for bioenergy products, and therefore the scale of the industry.

Activities: WP1 aims to build the body of knowledge to equip the community of practice to undertake well-informed studies on the climate effects of bioenergy. We will develop, demonstrate, refine and promote metrics, methods and tools to quantify climate effects of bioenergy. Methods applied will include land use and energy systems modelling, product-focused LCA, landscape and broader spatial scale assessments, and sectoral assessment. No single approach can provide full understanding; using many different approaches is expected to provide useful and robust insights.

We will publish scientific papers to contribute to the base of credible academic literature required to underpin policy development. Workshops will involve researchers from diverse disciplines to facilitate knowledge exchange, especially between those with divergent views and applying different methods. We will work closely with WP2 and WP3, providing expertise on climate change assessment to support objectives of those WPs. The results of the primary activities will be published as journal papers or technical reports, with “plain English” summaries.


Objectives WP2 – Metrics, methods and tools for assessing sustainability effects of bioenergy (excluding climate change effects)

There are concerns about the sustainability effects of deployment of bioenergy as well as other biobased products. In the past decades, several initiatives, codes of conduct, and sets of sustainability criteria have been developed to address these concerns. Although there is a general agreement on the main areas of concern (Table 2) and the need for sustainable biomass deployment, the translation and implementation into governance has proven to be challenging and is progressing slowly. Currently, only a limited number of concerns are taken into account, and policies are typically only for specific end uses (e.g., biofuels for transport, solid biofuels). Assessing and understanding sustainability effects is a key issue for industry as well as policy makers seeking to avoid or mitigate negative impacts and promote positive outcomes, ideally contributing to multiple SDGs.

The objective of WP2 is to inform academia, industry, policymakers and other stakeholders on the potential sustainability effects of bioenergy and the possible contribution of bioenergy deployment to the SDGs. To this end, WP2 will contribute to, and combine ongoing efforts on, developing and demonstrating metrics, methods and tools to quantify and qualify environmental, social, and economic effects of bioenergy systems, to support multi-stakeholder processes that seek to balance sustainability trade-offs and identify opportunities to realize synergies between several SDGs (linkage to WP3). While the focus is on bioenergy systems, the work will also be relevant for many other types of biobased products.

Table 2: Key areas of concern related to the sustainability of bioenergy. Based on review of several sets of sustainability criteria. 

Environmental concerns Socio-economic concerns
GHG emissions (covered in WP1) Food security
Air quality Rural development
Soil quality Employment
Water quality Energy security
Water availability Land rights
Biodiversity Gender
Working conditions
Economic viability
Health and safety issues


The effects of biobased supply chains critically depend on the design and management of the supply chain, and on site-specific biophysical and socio-economic conditions. The effects therefore vary over space and time and across social classes and stakeholders, which means that local characteristics must be considered for properly informing stakeholders involved in sustainability governance. 

As many of the potential effects of bioenergy are related to land use and LUC, biomass production in managed landscapes is a focus area in this work package.  Land use, LUC, and their effects, are the result of an interplay of many global and local drivers. Restricting the scope to only consider biomass production for bioenergy could therefore lead to suboptimal solutions and leakage effects. An integrated approach that takes all land functions and biomass uses into account is required for sound and sustainable land use planning. Knowledge development on the sustainability of bioenergy will benefit from contributions from different disciplines applying different complementary methodologies. 


Objectives WP3 – Sustainability stakeholders and implementation approaches (governance[1])

WP3 aims to create broader support among stakeholders for sustainable bioenergy as an integral part of the broader bioeconomy, as outlined in the IEA Bioenergy Roadmap, through three interrelated lines of activities:

identifying perspectives of stakeholder and promoting exchange of views among relevant stakeholders to bridge international and local scales (WP 3.1),

suggesting ways to make indicators and tools provided by WP1 and WP2 useful for implementation procedures and instruments (governance) (WP 3.2), engaging with identified stakeholder to discuss barriers and risks associated with bioenergy investment, and identifying respective de-risking approaches, and

support the implementation of such procedures and instruments (WP 3.3).

[1] Governance is here understood as the sum of formal and informal ways that actors and institutions, public and private, manage common affairs. It is a continuing process through which diverging interests may be accommodated and cooperative action may be taken. Sustainability governance is concerned with promoting the positive effects of production or development processes whilst avoiding/mitigating their negative impacts, considering environmental, social, and economic aspects of sustainability.