Biomass can contribute to sector integration in Green Deal

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

"Decarbonisation of heavily polluting sectors like transport is still at early stages while primary production still relies broadly on chemical inputs and practices that cause significant losses of soil quality and nutrients."  [Rokas Tenys/Shutterstock]

Member states can integrate their Energy and Climate plans into the Common Agricultural Policy to develop sustainable and resource-efficient biomass value chains, write David Chiaramonti and Calliope Panoutsou.

Sector integrated biomass policies at national level will facilitate prioritisation within geographic settings, focus on resource efficiency, contribute to rural and wider economic development, and meet overarching green, low carbon economy targets, they added.

David Chiaramonti is from the Polytechnic of Turin and Scientific Co-ordinator of ART Fuels Forum. Calliope Panoutsou, from the Imperial College London, is sustainable feedstock adviser of ART Fuels Forum.

The European Green Deal set a dynamic tone for climate neutrality by 2050 aiming to ensure inclusive transition to a circular, resource-efficient economy that restores biodiversity and cuts pollution.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic crisis which has no previous precedent compels to place these priorities on a context that allows economic recovery whilst maintaining the high aspirations for a zero-carbon, green economy.

Decarbonisation of heavily polluting sectors like transport is still at early stages while primary production still relies broadly on chemical inputs and practices that cause significant losses of soil quality and nutrients. 

Sustainable biomass value chains can support food, feed, and raw materials; contribute to sector coupling; offer significant opportunities for climate neutrality, resource efficiency, and emissions reductions; and at the same time deliver green economic and socio-economic recovery in rural areas.

Member states must therefore seize this opportunity and coordinate their energy & climate plans with the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy and national assessment of needs in agriculture and rural development.

Biomass: why it offers opportunities for sector integrated policies

Biomass value chains include variable feedstocks and often comprise sequential, inter-dependent sector activities including land use and feedstock production, conversion to energy and biobased carriers, and finally variable markets using the end products.

Their future development will involve cross-sectoral interactions between their upstream and downstream stages and will be regulated by sectorial policies including the ones for renewable energy and agriculture.

The recent policy developments in Europe offer unique opportunities to develop sector integrated biomass policies at European, national, and regional level.

With the European Green Deal targeting a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 and aiming to decarbonise the energy sector, the revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) steering focus to low ILUC risk biomass and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP post-2020) objective to enhance and improve the environmental and climate change actions and ambitions at each member state it is time to design biomass policies that are integrated across sectors.

The role of biomass in the updated renewable energy policy

Biomass as raw material for transport biofuels does offer readily available fuel solutions especially to sectors with limited short-term alternatives as aviation, heavy-duty and maritime. Electrification is expected to cover the rest.

Recently RED II introduced a more targeted approach to ensure sustainability is safeguarded and Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) impacts are reduced. From 2024, bioliquids and biomass fuels from food or feed crops -for which a significant expansion of the production area into land with high carbon stock is observed – will gradually decrease to zero by 2030.

The Directive also encourages production of biomass raw materials that: ‘are produced under circumstances that avoid ILUC effects, by virtue of having been cultivated on unused, abandoned or severely degraded land or emanating from crops which benefited from improved agricultural practices. This definition offers the opportunity to connect agriculture and energy, facilitate sustainable agricultural practices and deliver green, low carbon solutions with high resilience to climate change.

Post-2020 CAP: how can Strategic Plans integrate biomass?

Under CAP post-2020, member states will undertake needs assessments and design their Strategic Plans to achieve the EU common environmental and climate change objectives, set quantified targets and take specific local needs and conditions into consideration.

Specific Objective 4 targets “contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as sustainable energy”and can be directly used to coordinate efforts with the Renewable Energy Directive and LULUCF at national level and develop sector-integrated biomass policies.

Using the foreseen needs’ assessments policymakers can design interventions across the different stages of value chains with attention to GHG emissions, land-use change and forestry; exploit advantages within specific geographic settings; and consequently, achieve higher market uptake.

Biomass can support the resource-efficient delivery of this CAP objective, with the exploitation of abandoned and degraded land as well as the use of sustainably managed crop rotations and cover crops that can be part of the raw materials for advanced biofuels.

Furthermore, advanced biofuels can sequester significant amount of carbon, brought back to the soil, still addressing key elements of both renewable energy and agricultural targets as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), that are the key element in the EU Green Deal.

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