Dr Jeanette Whitaker of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, a NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow for Terrestrial Bioenergy, has been working with the UK's Committee on Climate Change, whose updated Bioenergy Review is published today...

The IPCC’s recent 1.5°C report highlighted the urgent need to reduce our use of fossil fuels to avoid damaging climate change. This will require an even greater use of renewable energy sources including bioenergy (i.e. plants grown to supply heat, power and transport fuel). In 2011, the Bioenergy Review published by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) highlighted the importance of bioenergy for meeting the UK’s climate change targets.

This year the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has been supporting the CCC as they update their Bioenergy Review, focusing on the key question:

How can we increase UK production of sustainable biomass for energy?

We currently import around 65 per cent of the biomass used for heat and power in the UK, but the UK’s planned exit from the EU and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) provides an opportunity to consider how we could scale-up sustainable biomass production in the UK. Currently, crops grown for bioenergy in the UK include food crops (wheat, maize and sugarbeet), dedicated energy crops (Miscanthus and willow) and forestry (forestry residues and small roundwood).

A new generation of biomass power stations means demand for these crops is growing. But in the UK we aren’t planting enough to satisfy the demand for sustainable biomass from dedicated energy crops, woodlands and forestry. This means that scaling up production to meet even greater future demand is a significant challenge.

Bringing together research, policy, NGOs and commercial stakeholders

To help the CCC understand this challenge and identify priority actions for government, I convened a joint workshop for CEH and the CCC in July 2018, bringing together leading researchers, policymakers, commercial stakeholders and NGOs from agriculture, forestry, energy and environmental sectors.

During the workshop we explored how to achieve the best environmental and socio-economic outcomes from expansion of sustainable bioenergy production, identified the barriers currently limiting expansion and prioritised the actions needed by government and industry.

Workshop participants concluded that there is strong evidence of the socio-economic and environmental benefits of expanding the UK’s bioenergy sector but a lack of confidence in future markets is hampering investment. Recommendations were presented to the CCC which would address economic, policy and regulatory barriers to bioenergy expansion.

A clear message from workshop attendees was that urgent action is needed if production in the UK is to be scaled-up to make a more substantial contribution to meeting the UK’s 2050 climate targets and the ambitions of the Paris agreement.

Key recommendations and conclusions from the workshop are published in the CCC's report Biomass in a Low-carbon Economy (chapter 4), with the full workshop report and executive summary available in the Annex.

Jeanette Whitaker

Additional information

CEH science also contributed to a second report, Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change, published today by the Committee on Climate Change, exploring how UK land use needs to change in response to the changing climate and to support reduced emissions.