How Policy Makers Learned to Start Worrying and Fell Out of Love With Bioenergy

Slade, Raphael and Di Lucia, Lorenzo and Adams, Paul (2018) How Policy Makers Learned to Start Worrying and Fell Out of Love With Bioenergy. In: Greenhouse Gases Balances of Bioenergy Systems. Academic Press, pp. 11-28.

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Bioenergy has come to be given a prominent role in national energy strategies in more than 60 countries around the world. The impetus for these policies draws on a range of motivations: improving energy security, diversifying agricultural production stimulating rural development, job creation, and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Arguably, GHG reductions were never the main driver for bioenergy policy, yet controversy over the extent, timing, and duration of carbon savings threatens to derail policy initiatives to drive up deployment. This paper analyses current controversies around bioenergy in the context of historic developments in the United States, Brazil, or European Union. It addresses two key questions: ‘how did we end up in this policy mess?’ and, ‘how do we get out of it?’ Policy makers have faced three broad challenges to whether policies introduced to support bioenergy can genuinely contribute to GHG mitigation. The first is that carbon accounting frameworks misrepresent the carbon saving benefits of bioenergy, potentially leading policy makers to support policies that have unintended and undesirable consequences. The second is that increasing biomass production on agricultural land can directly, or indirectly, lead to increasing carbon emissions. The third challenge is that increased use of forest biomass does nothing to reduce emissions in the short term, but can only reduce carbon emissions in the distant future. We examine the evidence around each of these challenges and critically evaluate the policy responses. We argue that the greatest risk lies in political loss of confidence and institutional paralysis. Whereas the greatest opportunity lies in the co-evolution of bioenergy production and governance systems, drawing on the collective judgment of stakeholders involved in experiential, interactive, and deliberative decision-making processes.

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