How is biodiversity protection influencing the potential for bioenergy feedstock production on grasslands?

Sustainable feedstock supply is a critical issue for the bioenergy sector. The sustainability criteria for biofuels in the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) prohibit the use of raw material from land with high biodiversity, i.e., areas designated for nature protection purposes, primary forest and highly biodiverse grassland. This paper addresses how biodiversity considerations influence the prospects for biomass production for bioenergy on grasslands. No globally established approach exists to assess and quantify grassland availability for bioenergy while considering biodiversity. We investigate how biodiverse grasslands are considered in (i) assessments of bioenergy supply potentials; (ii) the RED, the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); and (iii) land-use governance and nature protection in Brazil. Estimates of biomass supply potentials commonly treat biodiverse grasslands as unavailable for bioenergy, when considering broader nature protection requirements. Few studies allow for a direct quantification of how biodiversity considerations relating to grasslands influence the global biomass supply potential. The definitions of natural and non-natural grassland in the RED are similar to those in the CAP. The RED complements and strengthens the protective ambitions in the CAP and CBD, but a lack of clear definitions and guidance in relation to the RED creates uncertainty about the prospects for biofuels from grasslands on the EU market. For EU-28, an estimated 39-48% (about 9-11 Mha) and 15-54% (about 10-38 Mha) of natural and non-natural grassland, respectively, may be considered highly biodiverse. In Brazil, economic-ecological zoning can be important for grassland conservation since almost half of the native grassland on private land is unprotected and subject to farmers’ preferences, which may favor protecting forest over grassland. Further clarification of grassland definitions and delineation in regulations will significantly influence the prospects for bioenergy from grasslands, and the impacts of bioenergy deployment on biodiversity.

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