Bioenergy for climate change mitigation: Scale and sustainability
Review article, 2021

Many global climate change mitigation pathways presented in IPCC assessment reports rely heavily on the deployment of bioenergy, often used in conjunction with carbon capture and storage. We review the literature on bioenergy use for climate change mitigation, including studies that use top-down integrated assessment models or bottom-up modelling, and studies that do not rely on modelling. We summarize the state of knowledge concerning potential co-benefits and adverse side effects of bioenergy systems and discuss limitations of modelling studies used to analyse consequences of bioenergy expansion. The implications of bioenergy supply on mitigation and other sustainability criteria are context dependent and influenced by feedstock, management regime, climatic region, scale of deployment and how bioenergy alters energy systems and land use. Depending on previous land use, widespread deployment of monoculture plantations may contribute to mitigation but can cause negative impacts across a range of other sustainability criteria. Strategic integration of new biomass supply systems into existing agriculture and forest landscapes may result in less mitigation but can contribute positively to other sustainability objectives. There is considerable variation in evaluations of how sustainability challenges evolve as the scale of bioenergy deployment increases, due to limitations of existing models, and uncertainty over the future context with respect to the many variables that influence alternative uses of biomass and land. Integrative policies, coordinated institutions and improved governance mechanisms to enhance co-benefits and minimize adverse side effects can reduce the risks of large-scale deployment of bioenergy. Further, conservation and efficiency measures for energy, land and biomass can support greater flexibility in achieving climate change mitigation and adaptation.

climate change


integrated assessment models





Katherine Calvin

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Annette Cowie

NSW Department of Primary Industries

Göran Berndes

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Physical Resource Theory

Almut Arneth

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

F. Cherubini

Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

J. Portugal-Pereira

Imperial College London

Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

Giacomo Grassi

Joint Research Centre (JRC), European Commission

J. I. House

University of Bristol

Francis X. Johnson

Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)

A. Popp


Mark Rounsevell

University of Edinburgh

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

R. Slade

Imperial College London

Pete Smith

University of Aberdeen

GCB Bioenergy

1757-1693 (ISSN) 1757-1707 (eISSN)

Vol. 13 9 1346-1371

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance


Subject Categories

Other Environmental Engineering

Environmental Management

Energy Systems



More information

Latest update