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Potential trade‐offs of employing perennial biomass crops for the bioeconomy in the EU by 2050: impacts on agricultural markets in the EU and the world

Perennial biomass crops (PBC) are considered a crucial feedstock for sustainable biomass supply to the bioeconomy that compete less with food production compared to traditional crops. However, large‐scale development of PBC as a means to reach greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation targets would require not only the production on land previously not used for agriculture, but also the use of land that is currently used for agricultural production.

This study aims to evaluate agricultural market impacts with biomass demand for food, feed, and PBC in four bioeconomy scenarios (‘Business as usual’, ‘Improved relevance of bioeconomy’, ‘Extensive transformation to a bioeconomy’, ‘Extensive transformation to a bioeconomy with diet change’) to achieve a 75% GHG reduction target in the emission trading sector of the EU until 2050. We simulated bioeconomy scenarios in the energy system model Times‐PanEU and the agricultural sector model ESIM and conducted a sensitivity analysis considering crop yields, PBC yields, and land use options of PBC. Our results show that all bioeconomy scenarios except the one with diet change lead to increasing food prices (the average food price index increases by about 11% in the EU and 2.5−3.0% in world markets). A combination of the transformation to a bioeconomy combined with diet change towards less animal protein in the EU is the only scenario that results in only moderately increasing food prices within the EU (+3.0%) and even falling global food prices (−6.4%).

In addition, crop yield improvement and cultivation of PBC on marginal land help to reduce increases in food prices, but higher land prices are inevitable because those measures have only small effects on sparing agricultural land for PBC. For a transition to a bioeconomy that acknowledges climate mitigation targets, counter‐measures for those substantial direct and indirect impacts on agricultural markets should be taken into account.

Source: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcbb.12596