Economist article: How modern bio-energy helps reduce global warming

There is an excellent article in The Economist this week about Bio-Energy

GLOBAL carbon-dioxide emissions from the energy sector are on the rise again. 
This contrasts with the sharp reduction in emissions needed to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

A report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of leading climate scientists, reaffirmed that the world is on track to warm by 3℃ by the end of the century.

Scaling up the use of renewable energy is essential to any efforts to contain global warming. Renewables have grown rapidly in recent years, and a report by the IEA shows this growth will continue. It reckons that renewables will account for 40% of the growth in global energy use until 2023.

The use of renewables in heat and transport, which make up 80% of that consumption, remains limited. Decarbonising these sectors is essential if climate targets are to be met, but it will be impossible without the contribution of a critical, yet often overlooked source of renewable energy: modern bio-energy.

Modern bio-energy … refers to the production of sustainable biofuels like wood pellets, ethanol, biogas (produced from the breakdown of organic matter) and biodiesel (produced from plants such as rapeseed).

In 2017 modern bio-energy provided half of all renewable energy consumed—and four times as much as solar and wind combined. Biofuels can help decarbonise sectors for which other options may be scarce, by generating heat for industries and heating rooms and water in buildings, and powering the transport sector, though the role of biofuels in maritime and, particularly, aviation transport is still limited.

Bio-energy can contribute to climate-change mitigation even though, when burned, biofuels may emit more carbon dioxide per unit of energy generated than fossil fuels like coal and oil.

But the burning of fossil fuels releases carbon that has been locked in the ground for millions of years; burning biofuels returns to the atmosphere the carbon that was recently absorbed by the plants.

This is why the IEA’s modelling into how to keep global warming below 2℃ this century shows that the share of modern bio-energy in the world’s energy mix will grow from 4.5% to 17% by 2060. Over the same period, modern bio-energy alone would be responsible for 17% of the reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions. Accelerating the deployment of bio-energy becomes even more important in light of the IPCC’s report, which emphasises the importance of keeping global warming below 1.5℃, not 2℃, in order to avoid droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty. Without a significant increase in investment in bio-energy and a supportive policy and regulatory environment, that goal will be out of reach.

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