The UK's 2008 Climate Change Act sets a legally binding target for reducing territorial greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, relative to 1990 levels. Four pathways to achieve this target have been developed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, with all pathways requiring increased us of bioenergy. A significant amount of this could be indigenously sourced from crops, but will increased domestic production of energy crops conflict with other agricultural priorities?
To address this question, a coupled analysis of the UK energy system and land use has been developed. The two systems are connected by the production of bioenergy, and are projected forwards in time under the energy pathways, accounting for various constraints on land use for agriculture and ecosystem services.
The results show different combinations of crop yield and compositions for the pathways lead to the appropriation of between 7% and 61% of UK's agricultural land for bioenergy production. This could result in competition for land for food production and other land uses, as well as indirect land use change in other countries due to an increase in bioenergy imports. Consequently, the potential role of bioenergy in achieving UK emissions reduction targets may face significant deployment challenges.