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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

The quest for sustainable forest bioenergy: win-win solutions for climate and biodiversity

Giuntoli, J.; Barredo, J., I; Avitabile, V; Camia, A.; Cazzaniga, N. E.; Grassi, G.; Jasinevicius, G.; Jonsson, R.; Marelli, L.; Robert, N.; Agostini, A.; Mubareka, S.


The debate on forest bioenergy sustainability has been so far dominated by assessments made through the carbon emissions lens. The biodiversity perspective has been largely missing. The European Green Deal's ambitious targets have brought biodiversity and ecosystem condition restoration and conservation to the core of the EU's legislative portfolios. An opportunity to revisit some important governing texts with a biodiversity lens has therefore presented itself. In this study, we review the impacts on biodiversity and carbon emissions of specific bioenergy pathways that may be used to supply additional forest-based energy. We then synthesize our findings in a nexus matrix, plotting the pathways along a gradient of benefits through to detriments on the two dimensions to highlight win-win and lose-lose options.We found that some pathways do mitigate carbon emissions in the short-term while not deteriorating ecosystem condition. These include collecting fine woody debris within limits of locally established thresholds. We highlight the pathways that do little to mitigate carbon emissions and that are detrimental to ecosystems as well. These include removal of coarse woody debris and low stumps or the conversion of semi-natural, primary and old-growth forests to plantation forests with the purpose to produce bioenergy.We conclude that in the currently polarised debate an approach which unambiguously eliminates negative options is more fruitful than trying to find agreement on best options. Consequently, we present several governance measures that could limit the uptake of clearly undesirable pathways within Europe and we show that some lose-lose pathways are still considered "sustainable" within the European Green Deal.


Bioenergy; Biodiversity; Forest management; Climate change; Renewable energy directive; Climate-biodiversity nexus

Published in

Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
2022, Volume: 159, article number: 112180

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG13 Climate action
    SDG15 Life on land

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