Progress and barriers in understanding and preventing indirect land-use change

Vassilis Daioglou*, Geert Woltjer, Bart Strengers, Berien Elbersen, Goizeder Barberena Ibañez, David Sánchez Gonzalez, Javier Gil Barno, Detlef P. van Vuuren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Climate change mitigation pathways have highlighted both the critical role of land-use emissions, and the potential use of biofuels as a low-emission energy carrier. This has led to concerns about the emission mitigation potential of biofuels, particularly related to indirect land-use change (ILUC). This arises when the production of biofuels displaces the production of land-based products elsewhere, either directly or via changes in crop prices, leading to indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We review a large body of literature that has emerged on ILUC assessment and quantification, highlighting the methodologies employed, the resultant emission factors, modeled dynamics driving ILUC, and the uncertainty therein. Our review reveals that improvements in ILUC assessment methods have failed to reduce uncertainty and increase confidence in ILUC factors, instead making marginal improvements to economic models. Thus, while assessments have highlighted measures that could reduce ILUC, it is impossible to control or determine the actual ILUC resulting from biofuel production. This makes ILUC a poor guiding principle for land-use and climate policy, and does not help with the determination of the GHG performance of biofuels. Instead climate and land-use policy should focus on more integrated protection of terrestrial resources, covering all land-use-related products.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)924-934
JournalBiofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining
Issue number5
Early online date27 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • agriculture
  • bioenergy
  • biofuels
  • climate change mitigation
  • indirect land-use change
  • modeling


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