Bioenergy and climate change mitigation: an assessment

Felix Creutzig*, N. H. Ravindranath, Goran Berndes, Simon Bolwig, Ryan Bright, Francesco Cherubini, Helena Chum, Esteve Corbera, Mark Delucchi, Andre Faaij, Joseph Fargione, Helmut Haberl, Garvin Heath, Oswaldo Lucon, Richard Plevin, Alexander Popp, Carmenza Robledo-Abad, Steven Rose, Pete Smith, Anders StrommanSangwon Suh, Omar Masera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

492 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Bioenergy deployment offers significant potential for climate change mitigation, but also carries considerable risks. In this review, we bring together perspectives of various communities involved in the research and regulation of bioenergy deployment in the context of climate change mitigation: Land-use and energy experts, land-use and integrated assessment modelers, human geographers, ecosystem researchers, climate scientists and two different strands of life-cycle assessment experts. We summarize technological options, outline the state-of-the-art knowledge on various climate effects, provide an update on estimates of technical resource potential and comprehensively identify sustainability effects. Cellulosic feedstocks, increased end-use efficiency, improved land carbon-stock management and residue use, and, when fully developed, BECCS appear as the most promising options, depending on development costs, implementation, learning, and risk management. Combined heat and power, efficient biomass cookstoves and small-scale power generation for rural areas can help to promote energy access and sustainable development, along with reduced emissions. We estimate the sustainable technical potential as up to 100EJ: high agreement; 100-300EJ: medium agreement; above 300EJ: low agreement. Stabilization scenarios indicate that bioenergy may supply from 10 to 245EJyr(-1) to global primary energy supply by 2050. Models indicate that, if technological and governance preconditions are met, large-scale deployment (>200EJ), together with BECCS, could help to keep global warming below 2 degrees degrees of preindustrial levels; but such high deployment of land-intensive bioenergy feedstocks could also lead to detrimental climate effects, negatively impact ecosystems, biodiversity and livelihoods. The integration of bioenergy systems into agriculture and forest landscapes can improve land and water use efficiency and help address concerns about environmental impacts. We conclude that the high variability in pathways, uncertainties in technological development and ambiguity in political decision render forecasts on deployment levels and climate effects very difficult. However, uncertainty about projections should not preclude pursuing beneficial bioenergy options.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)916-944
Number of pages29
JournalGlobal Change Biology. Bioenergy
Issue number5
Early online date4 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015

Bibliographical note

The authors are indebted to Julia Römer for assisting with editing several hundred references. Helmut Haberl gratefully acknowledges funding by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Global Change Programme), the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research (BMWF, proVision programme) as well as by the EU-FP7 project VOLANTE. Carmenza Robledo-Abad received financial support from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.


  • climate change mitigation
  • land use
  • life-cycle analysis
  • sustainability
  • technical potential
  • technologies
  • land-use change
  • greenhouse-gas emissions
  • sugarcane-ethanol-production
  • general equilibrium-analysis
  • regional biomass chains
  • life-cycle assessment
  • biofuel carbon debt
  • crop-based biofuels
  • salt-affected soils
  • Sub-Saharan Africa


Dive into the research topics of 'Bioenergy and climate change mitigation: an assessment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this