Modern and sustainable forms of bioenergy play an important role in our new special report on how the global energy sector can reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which also examines bioenergy’s advantages and limitations in efforts to address climate change by limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1,5 °C.
Bioenergy is a versatile renewable energy source that can be used in all sectors, and it can often make use of existing transmission and distribution systems and end-user equipment. But there are constraints on expanding the supply of bioenergy, and possible trade-offs with sustainable development goals, including avoiding conflicts at local level with other uses of land, notably for food production and biodiversity protection.
We aimed to ensure that the peak level of total primary bioenergy demand – including losses from the conversion of biomass into useful fuels – falls within the lowest estimates of global sustainable bioenergy potential in 2050, namely around 100 exajoules (EJ). Bioenergy demand in our global net zero pathway – the Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario – is lower than all comparable scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that are aligned with 1,5 °C. Those IPCC scenarios use a median of 200 EJ of bioenergy in 2050.
There is a complete phase-out of the traditional use of solid biomass for cooking, which is inefficient, often linked to deforestation, and whose pollution was responsible for 2.5 million premature deaths in 2020. The traditional use of solid biomass –estimated at around 40% of total bioenergy supply, or around 25 EJ, today – falls to zero by 2030 in the NZE Scenario, in line with achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 on universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
The use of conventional biofuels, which are produced from food crops, is also significantly reduced by 2050. Like all other aspects of the energy transition in the NZE Scenario, the pathway to ensuring bioenergy sustainability is challenging but achievable.
Sustainable use of bioenergy in the NZE Scenario not only avoids negative impacts such as increased deforestation and competition with food production – it also delivers benefits beyond the energy sector. Shifting from traditional use of biomass to modern bioenergy can avoid undue burdens on women often tasked with collecting wood for fuel, bring health benefits from reduced air pollution and proper waste management, and reduce methane emissions from inefficient combustion and waste decomposition.
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Source: International Energy Agency