Land use for bioenergy: Synergies and trade-offs between sustainable development goals
Review article, 2022

Bioenergy aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contribute to meeting global climate change mitigation targets. Nevertheless, several sustainability concerns are associated with bioenergy, especially related to the impacts of using land for dedicated energy crop production. Cultivating energy crops can result in synergies or trade-offs between GHG emission reductions and other sustainability effects depending on context-specific conditions. Using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework, the main synergies and trade-offs associated with land use for dedicated energy crop production were identified. Furthermore, the context-specific conditions (i.e., biomass feedstock, previous land use, climate, soil type and agricultural management) which affect those synergies and trade-offs were also identified. The most recent literature was reviewed and a pairwise comparison between GHG emission reduction (SDG 13) and other SDGs was carried out. A total of 427 observations were classified as either synergy (170), trade-off (176), or no effect (81). Most synergies with environmentally-related SDGs, such as water quality and biodiversity conservation, were observed when perennial crops were produced on arable land, pasture or marginal land in the ‘cool temperate moist’ climate zone and ‘high activity clay’ soils. Most trade-offs were related to food security and water availability. Previous land use and feedstock type are more impactful in determining synergies and trade-offs than climatic zone and soil type. This study highlights the importance of considering context-specific conditions in evaluating synergies and trade-offs and their relevance for developing appropriate policies and practices to meet worldwide demand for bioenergy in a sustainable manner.


Sustainable development goals

Land use change

Energy crops

Socio-economic impacts

Environmental impacts



Ivan Vera

Utrecht University

Birka Wicke

Utrecht University

P. Lamers

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Annette Cowie

University of New England

Anna Repo

Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)

Bas Heukels

Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland

Colleen R. Zumpf

Argonne National Laboratory

David Styles

University of Limerick

E. S. Parish

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

F. Cherubini

Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Göran Berndes

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Physical Resource Theory

Henriette Jager

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Luis Schiesari

University of Sao Paulo (USP)

Martin Junginger

Utrecht University

M. Brandao

Royal Institute of Technology (KTH)

N. S. Bentsen

University of Copenhagen

Vassilis Daioglou

Utrecht University

PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency

Zoe M. Harris

Imperial College London

University of Surrey

Floor Van Der Hilst

Utrecht University

Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews

1364-0321 (ISSN) 18790690 (eISSN)

Vol. 161 112409

Subject Categories

Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

Agricultural Science

Environmental Sciences



More information

Latest update