EU bioeconomy strategy and IPCC – planets apart

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

European Commission presents new Bio-economy Strategy for a sustainable Europe, Brussels, 11 October 2018. [© European Union, 2018 / Photo: Mauro Bottaro]

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that biofuels will need to rise 260% by 2030 and 750% by 2050 in order to contain global warming below 1.5°C. Yet, the EU Bioeconomy Strategy, published days after, seems to ignore this, writes James Cogan.

James Cogan is a policy analyst at Ethanol Europe, a European firm producing bioenergy for climate mitigation.

On October 8 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.

Alarm bells went off the world over. The UN Secretary General called it an ear-splitting wake-up call, noting that climate change is running faster than we are and calling for ambitious action to cut emissions by half by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

He emphasised how the December UN Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland is a can’t-fail moment.

IPCC reports are the bedrock of scientific advice on climate change, providing the basis for governments at all levels to develop climate-related policies, and they underlie the negotiations at UN Climate Conferences. There is no greater authority.

So what’s this got to do with the EU Bioeconomy Strategy? 

The EU Bioeconomy Strategy was released just three days after the IPCC report, on October 11, 2018, and quite rightly it is driven by the idea that a sustainable European bioeconomy is necessary to build a carbon neutral future in line with the Climate objectives of the Paris Agreement.

EU emphasises ‘ecological limitations’ of new bioeconomy plan

The European Commission unveiled a new bioeconomy strategy on Thursday (11 October), saying it could reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels while underlining the ecological limitations of Europe’s farming and forestry sector.

But there the two documents diverge.

By design the IPCC presents projections of future climate change, the risks that climate change poses and the implications of response options. But it does not tell policymakers what actions to take. The Bioeconomy Strategy, by design, should be prescriptive. It should specify goals and broad measures for reaching them. But does it?

It’s what is done now that matters.

What emerges blindingly clearly from the IPCC is that what matters above all are the real actions taken in the next 12 years, from 2018 to 2030, much more so than the concepts and debates for the decades after 2030.

Energy is the root of climate change and by IPCC reckoning significant growth in bioenergy is central to mitigation pathways. This is where bioeconomy strategies should come it. In transport for instance, the IPCC’s integrated assessment indicates that biofuels will rise 260% by 2030 and 750% by 2050*. Indeed biofuels hold as important a role as renewable electricity in the sector for the next few decades.

Bioenergy in transport important as renewable electricity.

The EU Bioeconomy Strategy should surely have noted these factors and proposed a strategy for assuring that significant growth in bioenergy and in biofuels. Under the alarming global warming circumstances it was reasonable to expect that this edition of the EU Strategy might even have been dedicated entirely to bioenergy, in power generation, in heating and in transport.

The Strategy does note that bioenergy is currently the EU’s largest renewable energy source and is expected to remain a vital component of the energy mix in 2030. It goes so far as to say there is growing understanding that deep defossilisation and remaining under the 2°C limit will not be possible without sustainable bioeconomy activities.

But it misses the opportunity of addressing, even at a concept level, how the bioenergy growth will be achieved, how transport biofuels will be more than doubled or how the process will be managed to assure it achieves a balance between urgent climate action and other developmental goals.

Climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity, dwarfing all other challenges combined. The IPCC call to act inside 12 years must mark the end to government foot-dragging and to public apathy. It should be the stimulous for a Bioeconomy Strategy that addresses to the root of the problem and puts forward solutions that match it in timing and in scale.

* IPCC SR15 – Supplementary Material 4.A, Table 1

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