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Systems change with bioenergy required to deliver climate targets, says IPCC


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued part two its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) at the end of February – 3,767 pages of scientific record against which this generation will be held to account.

Commenting on the report, UN secretary-general António Guterres described it as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership”. The red alert issued last year is turning purple on the heat map.

Entitled Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, AR6 2* describes the current detrimental impacts of climate change, deforestation, land use change, and pollution on people and the planet.

it emphasises the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Referring to the patchwork of pledges and ad hoc mitigations undertaken to date, the report says, “Half measures are no longer an option”.

Systems change is now demanded, “transformation and system transitions in energy; land, ocean, coastal and freshwater ecosystems; urban, rural and infrastructure; and industry and society”.

An integrated bioeconomy

These transitions the report says will make possible the adaptation required for high levels of human health and wellbeing, economic and social resilience, ecosystem health, and planetary health.

It recognises an important role for the bioeconomy. The report states: “Bio-based products as part of a circular bioeconomy have potential to support adaptation and mitigation, with sectoral integration, transparent governance and stakeholder involvement key to maximizing benefits and managing trade-offs (high confidence).

“A sustainable bioeconomy relying on bioresources will need to be supported by technology innovation and international cooperation and governance of global trade to disincentivize environmental and social externalities (medium confidence).”

In an urban environment this could see the integration of waste and energy streams. In the rural environment, agroecology, as famously pursued in the biogas sector by traditional crop rotations systems and the famed Italian Biogasdoneright.

“Agroecology can support long-term productivity and resilience of food systems by sustaining ecosystem services such as pollination, soil organic carbon, pest and weed control, soil microbial activity, crop yield stability, water quality and biodiversity (high confidence),” it says.

Bioenergy – opportunities and challenges

The report raises concerns about ‘bioenergy’, with or without carbon capture and storage, a consequence of inappropriate deployment.

On its potential role the report states, “Strategic integration of appropriate biomass production systems into agricultural landscapes can provide biomass for bioenergy and other biobased products while providing co-benefits such as enhanced landscape diversity, habitat quality, retention of nutrients and sediment, erosion control, climate regulation, flood regulation, pollination and biological pest and disease control.”

Yet it also adds that in relation to the production of feedstocks for biofuel and biomass energy production can often come at a cost; “a growing list of studies have documented the detrimental trade-offs between small-holder food systems and large-scale biofuel production, which include dispossession and impoverishment of small-holder farmers, food insecurity, food shortages, and social instability”.

To ensure this is avoided, the report says a holistic approach needs to be fostered looking at the whole ecosystems impact of any single mitigation action – not simply focused on bioenergy but all mitigation responses.

“However,” it adds, “constraining or precluding the use of bioenergy without or with CCS could have significant implications for the cost of pursuing ambitious climate goals, and potentially the attainability of those [climate] goals.”

To read either the Summary for Policy Makers visit here

Please note: The IPCC has issued short powerful and accessible Fact Sheets (3 pages each) covering global regions, biodiversity and human settlements.

AR6 1  Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis was released in August 2021.



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