Climate Change Effects of Biomass and Bioenergy Systems

Gothenburg, Sweden 2017

Understanding the Climate Effects of Bioenergy Systems

16 May 2017, Chalmers University, Gothenburg, Sweden

Co-hosted by: IEA Bioenergy Task 38 and Chalmers University of Technology

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The objectives for the workshop are to advance scientific understanding of the climate effects of bioenergy, particularly with respect to:

  • Significance of timing of carbon emissions and sequestration associated with bioenergy systems
  • What insights does climate science provide concerning bioenergy in the context of temperature targets, carbon budget / emission space, timing of peak emissions and peak warming
  • How bioenergy contributes to transformation pathways
  • Modelling and assessment of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)
  • Roles of life cycle assessment, energy system modelling, and climate science in informing policy development for bioenergy

Bioenergy based on woody biomass from existing forests may most often be the “study object” in this workshop, but these topics listed are valid also for other bioenergy systems. The focus will be on scientific and technical issues, and how to derive advice for policy-makers. We aim to facilitate dialogue between scientists, to clarify divergent views on the role of forest-based bioenergy in climate change mitigation, and to identify research needs to fill knowledge gaps.


Bioenergy has been promoted as a renewable, low carbon energy source. However, the climate effects of bioenergy have been questioned by various authors over the last decade. Further, there is disagreement on the appropriate methods for quantifying the impacts of bioenergy on climate change.

Recently, the debate has been rekindled through the publication of a report by Chatham House “Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate”. Members of IEA Bioenergy wrote a critique, and others contributed to the debate:; Agostini et al.; Finnish scientists; FutureMetrics; Glen Peters; UK Renewable Energy Association; US/EUR scientists.

The focus of the recent discussion is the use of woody biomass from existing forests, with particular attention on wood pellets sourced from USA and transported to Europe for generation of electricity. Key issues raised include:

  • How bioenergy contributes to the global carbon budget
  • Impact of bioenergy on energy system transformation
  • Short-term vs long-term emissions reduction targets
  • How climate effects of bioenergy should be evaluated
  • How bioenergy affects the forest carbon sink
  • How forest management and market forces influence the climate effects of bioenergy.

This workshop builds upon a series of previous expert meetings organised by various IEA Bioenergy Tasks to discuss the use of forest bioenergy and its impact on climate change1, and previously published documents such as the “IEA Bioenergy ExCo statement on the effects of timing of emissions”2.

This expert meeting aims at clarifying issues raised during the recent debate on climate effects of bioenergy, with particular attention to methodological aspects.

Recommended reading

  1. Chatham House report “Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate” – especially Chapters 1 and 2
  2. IEA Bioenergy response to Chatham House report: and other responses listed in Background
  3. IPCC AR5 WGIII Chapter 6 Assessing Transformation Pathways:
  4. IPCC AR5 WGIII Chapter 11 Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) Appendix on Bioenergy, p870
  5. For a quick overview of items 3 and 4, read Section 4 of the WGIII SPM:
  6. European Forest Institute report: “Forest biomass, carbon neutrality and climate change mitigation” (Berndes, Asikainen, Cowie, Egnell, and others)
    Full report:

Workshop Program

Location: Apollon Room, Chalmers Conference Centre, Chalmers University
Welcome and introduction to the workshop (Annette Cowie, Göran Berndes)
Unravelling the Knot of CO2 Emissions from Bioenergy and Climate Change (Francesco Cherubini)
C budget and timing of biogenic C emissions (Daniel Johansson)
Life Cycle Assessment as a support tool for bioenergy policy (Miguel Brandão)
Why you cannot say that it is better to use solar PV than bioelectricity (Filip Jonsson)
Bioenergy in a 2C world – the lesser of two evils? (Glen Peters)
How bioenergy contributes to transformation pathways (Thomas Gasser)
The time horizon in assessment of climate impacts (Tomas Ekvall)
Identification of global biomass supply marginals and their dependency on scale of demand through econometric modelling – a case of using the GLOBIOM tool (Henrik Wenzel)
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) (Leif Gustavsson)
  • Identification of major points of agreement and divergence, and their basis
  • Identification of knowledge gaps and research required


Anthony Benoist Tomas Ekvall Luisa Marelli
Göran Berndes Thomas Gasser Michael Martin
Per Eduard Bjerager Jacopo Giuntoli Anders Mortensen
Miguel Brandão Leif Gustavsson Martin Persson
Christel Cederberg Julia Hansson Glen Peters
Francesco Cherubini Daniel Johansson Philip Sargent
Helena Chum Kristen Johnson Sampo Soimakallio
Olivia Cintas Kati Koponen Henrik Wenzel
Annette Cowie Søren Larsen Sonia Yeh