The Role of Sustainable Bioenergy in Supporting Climate and Development Goals


As the world searches for viable solutions for decarbonisation, it becomes clear that a diverse mix of renewable energy, including various forms of sustainable bioenergy, is essential in the energy transitions. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)’s 1.5°C Scenario forecasts that bioenergy will contribute to over 18% of the total final energy consumption (TPEC) by 2050, including direct uses (16%) and electricity generation (2.3%).

To raise awareness on the significance and highlight the critical role of sustainable bioenergy in the global energy transitions, IRENA has issued a joint statement alongside the Clean Energy Ministerial Biofuture Platform Initiative, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the IEA Bioenergy Technology Collaboration Programme, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Developed by a Cross-Initiative Coordination Group on Bioenergy and convened by the Global Bioenergy Partnership, the statement seeks to address the persistent debates about what role bioenergy should play in support of climate and development goals.

Bioenergy derivatives are versatile, storable, and dispatchable, making them ideal for directly replacing fossil fuels in various sectors, including transport, power and heat production, industrial processes, and clean cooking. They can complement other renewables sources, thus enhancing the resilience and sustainability of energy systems.

Currently, biofuels are regarded as one of the most feasible options in hard-to-abate sectors, such as aviation and shipping, which require energy-dense carriers.

“We need bioenergy to achieve net zero, and only good governance can ensure its sustainable use and practice.”

We must be realistic – our decarbonisation targets cannot be met without sustainable bioenergy, especially in hard-to-abate sectors. We need bioenergy to achieve net zero, and only good governance can ensure its sustainable use and practice.

Roland Roesch Director, Innovation and Technology Centre

Since bioenergy sources are intricately tied to geographical, biophysical, and socio-economic factors – particularly in land-based sectors – varied feedstock options for diverse end-uses present unique energy transition pathways in different regions. This leads to tailored decarbonisation strategies that meet the specific needs of different countries.

As depicted in IRENA’s recent bioenergy reports, diverse business models and supply chains highlight the regional intricacies of bioenergy dynamics, especially in emerging markets like Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The benefits and trade-offs of bioenergy systems are context-dependent, requiring careful consideration of local needs and priorities. When produced with energy-efficient and low-emission technologies, sustainable bioenergy contributes significantly to inclusive energy transitions, particularly in regions where other decarbonisation options are either costly or unavailable.

The joint statement emphasises the crucial role of sustainable bioenergy – derived from a variety of biomass resources – in the bioeconomy. It can be produced from integrated systems in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture, alongside food and bio-based products, or from biogenic waste and residue streams. What makes bioenergy attractive is its contribution to local socio-economic growth, especially for communities whose livelihoods rely heavily on bioeconomy.

In order to maximise the benefits of sustainable bioenergy while minimising potential risks, robust governance is required. This includes evidence-based assessments of environmental, economic, social, and political factors, ensuring food and energy security, climate justice, biodiversity stewardship, land and water rights, and alignment with local development priorities.

Principles of nature-based solutions, such as stakeholders engagement and informed consent, are critical in this process. Recognised norms for quality and sustainability are essential for facilitating investments, fair trade, monitoring, and verification.

In summary, sustainable bioenergy plays a vital role in the global energy transitions, supporting climate and sustainable development goals. Through good governance, bioenergy – as part of the greater bioeconomy – can contribute to addressing risks related to land and resource use, food security, natural ecosystems, and carbon stocks, while promoting equity, justice, and economic competitiveness.

Read the joint statement here.