Committee on Climate Change Review on future UK use of bioenergy
The Committee on Climate Change have produced their review on bioenergy. On aviation it says: Biofuels could play a role through the 2020s and beyond in supporting emission reductions from aviation, but this should not be seen as a ‘silver bullet’. It says as well as bioenergy, “efficiency improvements and constrained demand growth will also be required. The findings of the bioenergy review will feed in to the Government’s new bioenergy strategy and to the Committee’s advice on the inclusion of international aviation and shipping in carbon budgets which will be published in Spring 2012.”
The press release from the Committee on Climate Change, on 7th December enttled
“Review highlights the importance of taking a sustainable approach to bioenergy, and of demonstrating CCS to meet carbon budgets”
Carbon budgets will be very difficult to achieve without the use of bioenergy, and the
successful development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology,
according to a review of bioenergy by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
The review concludes that a 10% share of bioenergy in total energy could be
required to meet the UK’s 2050 emissions target, compared to the current share of
Bioenergy would ideally be used with CCS, which would allow for the removal of
carbon from the atmosphere and for higher emissions reductions to be achieved.
The review suggests that a 10% share in 2050 could be feasible within sustainability
limits, but any higher than this could be unsafe given sustainability concerns – and
even at the 10% level, there may be trade-offs with wider environmental and social
In the report the Committee makes five key recommendations to the Government:
1) Regulatory frameworks should be strengthened to ensure sustainability of
bioenergy. Under current approaches, use of bioenergy could result in emissions
increases rather than emission reductions; particularly due to indirect land use
impacts (i.e. growth of bioenergy feedstocks can displace agriculture production
to carbon rich land). Therefore EU and UK frameworks should be extended to
cover these impacts. At the UK level, the emissions benchmark for use of
biomass in power generation should be made more stretching (i.e. reduced from
285g CO2/kWh to 200g CO2/kWh). These changes should be complemented by
agreement at the climate change conference in Durban on accounting for land
use change emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and any successor agreement.
Embargoed until: 00.01 on 7 December 2011 Issue No: 452)
2. CCS should be demonstrated as a matter of urgency. This is not just because
of its potential application with fossil fuels, but because of its use with biomass,
which would effectively allow the removal of carbon from the atmosphere.
Without CCS, carbon budgets would be significantly more difficult to achieve, and
would require currently unforeseen technology breakthroughs or significant
behaviour change. Therefore the Government should move forward with its four
proposed demonstration projects without delay, setting clear milestones to
provide confidence that these will be delivered on time.
3) Government should regard targets on biofuels and biomass as flexible and
should delay setting any new targets until new regulatory arrangements have
been put in place to ensure the sustainable supply of bioenergy. In particular, if it
becomes clear that sustainable supply is below levels currently targeted, targets
should be adjusted downwards, rather than delivered in an unsustainable
4) Subsidies should not be provided to new large scale biomass power
generation under the Renewables Obligation. Such subsidies, recently
proposed by the Government, would be costly and unsustainable. The focus in
power generation should be on co-firing and conversion of existing coal plant,
and new small-scale generation, using sustainable local bioenergy supplies.
5) Other low carbon options should be developed given limited sustainable
supply of bioenergy. These include energy efficiency improvement, nuclear and
wind power generation, electric vehicles (battery and hydrogen) and electric
Bioenergy refers to combusting solid, liquid or gas fuels made from biomass
feedstocks, which may or may not have undergone some form of conversion
The Committee assessed the role of bioenergy both globally and in the UK and
considered how it might best be applied to help meet climate targets. The role of bioenergy in climate change mitigation is controversial and the review illustrates significant uncertainties around its use, in relation to:
The emissions reductions that can be achieved through using it – It is hard
to account fully for all emissions resulting from the use of bioenergy and often
lifecycle emissions are excluded – so higher than anticipated emissions may be
The sustainable supply of bioenergy – Population growth, coupled with
increasing wealth, means that in the next decades there will be an increasing
need for land to grow food. Growth of bioenergy feedstocks could risk displacing
food production. In addition, there are wider environmental and social impacts
associated with the use of bioenergy e.g. negative impacts on biodiversity,
natural habitats and deforestation.
Taking these concerns into account, the Committee assessed where bioenergy might
best be used to support the UK in building a prosperous low-carbon economy,
recommending that the following approach be taken across sectors:
Power generation – biomass could be used alongside or instead of coal in
existing coal-fired plants. However, any role for new dedicated biomass without
CCS should be very limited given its high cost.
Industry – There is scope to significantly reduce emissions from buildings by
using wood in construction as this would lock in carbon and replace high
emission building materials e.g. concrete, steel and cement. Biomass can also be
used in energy-intensive industries, alongside CCS, as an alternative to coal –
this would result in negative emissions.
Aviation – Biofuels could play a role through the 2020s and beyond in supporting
emission reductions from aviation, but this should not be seen as a ‘silver bullet’.
Efficiency improvements and constrained demand growth will also be required.
Surface transport –there is likely to be only niche use of biofuels in surface
transport, which will predominantly require use of electric technologies to
decarbonise cars, vans and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). This underscores the
need for Government to support development of electric vehicle markets now.
A range of sensible smaller-scale local uses for bioenergy- this includes
using old cooking oil to run buses, making use of food or farm waste in anaerobic
digestion plants, or using woodchip from tree surgery waste in biomass boilers.
David Kennedy, Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change said:
“The extent to which bioenergy should contribute to economy decarbonisation is
Our analysis shows that there is a crucial role for bioenergy in meeting carbon
budgets, but within strict sustainability limits – and trade-offs with wider
environmental and social objectives may be needed.
Strengthening of regulatory arrangements is required both here and in Europe to
provide confidence that bioenergy used over the next decade is sustainable.
CCS should be demonstrated and demonstration projects commenced given the
crucial role of this technology when used with bioenergy to meet carbon budgets.
The Government should change its approach to supporting new biomass power
generation, which as proposed could raise costs with limited carbon benefits.”
The findings of the bioenergy review will feed in to the Government’s new bioenergy
strategy and to the Committee’s advice on the inclusion of international aviation and
shipping in carbon budgets which will be published in Spring 2012.
Notes to Editors
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC)
The CCC is an independent statutory body established under the Climate Change Act to
advise the UK Government on setting carbon budgets, and to report to Parliament on the
progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions: www.theccc.org.uk/.
The Bioenergy Review sets out the CCC’s assessment of the role for bioenergy in
meeting carbon budgets.
The UK is committed under the Climate Change Act (2008) to reducing emissions of
greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 in order to tackle climate change.
Carbon budgets are 5-year ceilings set on economy-wide emissions set to ensure that the UK meets its climate change targets. The first four carbon budgets have been set by the Government and commit the UK to a 50% cut in emissions (on 1990 levels) by 2025.
The review is supported by 4 technical papers which contain the full analysis and
evidence behind the chapters in the review.
Bioenergy is produced through burning solid, liquid or gas fuels which have been made
from biomass feedstocks.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is technology which involves capturing the carbon
dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels, transporting it and storing it in secure spaces
such as geological formations, including old oil and gas fields and aquifers under the
The CCC’s new report, the ‘Climate Change Review’ (December 2011) can be accessed
CCC press release at:
The RSPB welcomed this announcement
RSPB welcomes bioenergy review
The RSPB has welcomed the Committee on Climate Change Bioenergy Review released today.
Harry Huyton, RSPB head of energy and climate change policy, said: “This is an important and timely report. With the right policies in place bioenergy could offer vital carbon savings, but it also has the potential to accelerate the destruction of forests and other natural habitats and make climate change worse.
“The Government must take an evidence-based approach to the industry, supporting only those schemes that offer genuine climate benefits. The CCC’s new report sets out some urgent first steps to this position. Government must now follow this advice if bioenergy is to play a positive role in the UK’s energy future. If they fail to do so then public money will be used to prop up a fundamentally unsustainable, damaging industry.
“Critical to this is removing subsidies for large-scale biomass electricity. Earlier this year, the RSPB published a review of proposals for such power stations in the UK. We found that 32 plants were in development and they planned to import 81% of the biomass they were going to burn – that means they would require up to 33 million tonnes of imported wood which will come from forestry markets in Canada, Russia and the US.
“Not only is this environmental madness, but the CCC have today shown that it does not make economic sense either. Offshore wind, for example, offers low-carbon, renewable energy at a similar cost but without threatening forests.”
The CCC have also suggested that bioenergy could supply up to 10% of UK energy in 2050, and that this would be within sustainable limits. They have, however, said that its role must ultimately be constrained by the sustainable supply, and that we should not attempt to meet targets if it becomes clear that they are unsustainable.
Mr Huyton added: “This is a clear message to Government that the role of bioenergy must be based on the amount of sustainable supplies available, and that it must not recklessly pursue it bioenergy targets if it becomes clear that they are at the expense of the environment.
“This advice is particularly pertinent to Government’s policy of subsidising biofuels in spite of the continued accumulation of evidence that they cause more problems for the environment then they solve. In Kenya, for example, the RSPB has been fighting to prevent a major biofuel plantation that would destroy a dry tropical forest, whilst in Indonesia palm oil expansion continues to fuel deforestation.”
The response from Biofuelwatch is at