Bioenergy and Land Use Change: A Global Challenge

On the 28th-30th June 2015 a group of 26 leading international researchers, policymakers and industry/business representatives met at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Lancaster to discuss the global challenges of Bioenergy and Land-use change.  The workshop, sponsored by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), BBSRC, EPSRC and NERC, was planned to coincide with completion of the £4M Ecosystem Land-Use Modelling and Soil carbon Flux Trial (ELUM) funded and commissioned by the ETI and led by Dr Niall McNamara at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Lancaster.

The workshop was organised by CEH’s Dr Jeanette Whitaker, NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow for Bioenergy.  Attendees included academics from the University of Sao Paolo, Colorado State University and Antwerp University, European Commission Joint Research Centre, UK Department for Energy and Climate Change, Shell and BP and academics from UK universities and institutes who have contributed to UK research on bioenergy sustainability. We were also fortunate to have an inspiring keynote presentation from Ian Johnson who is leading the Global Land Outlook for the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification.

Bioenergy workshop attendees

The overall goal of the workshop was to identify how can we progress towards more complete sustainability accounting and land use planning at national and regional levels for bioenergy and agricultural land uses?

Outcomes from UK research on bioenergy and land-use change led by CEH were compared with similar studies in the USA, Brazil and Belgium, to identify where there is consensus in conclusions drawn and the key knowledge gaps remaining from research, policy and industry perspectives.  Attendees also explored the potential of UK and global research outcomes as a basis for understanding and managing land-use change.

The format of the workshop was a mixture of presentations, discussion sessions and breakout groups which captured the current status of knowledge, research needs and how they can be delivered. The workshop was very successful in bringing together a broad range of stakeholders to discuss how we assess the impacts of land-use change to bioenergy and communicate our findings to policy and industry. 

Recommendations from the workshop included:

  • Willow for bioenergyFurther research is needed to understand the impact of management practices on soil carbon stocks and GHG fluxes in bioenergy plantations.
  • Longer term datasets are needed (GHGs/soil carbon) covering different phases of the crop lifecycle (and whole lifecycle) and further study of transitions from grasslands.
  • Financial support is required for long-term experiments and equipment/ infrastructure including high-resolution monitoring equipment to measure GHG emissions from LUC to biomass feedstock production.
  • Quantifying the impacts of agricultural land use change on ecosystem services is an important next step. These data could then be used for spatial modelling of ecosystem services. 

The challenges facing the sustainable expansion of bioenergy were highlighted, but also the significant progress that has been made in understanding the consequences of land-use change to bioenergy. 

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