National or supranational policies such as the EU Renewable Energy Directive (EU RED) prescribe both the assessment of the environmental impacts of biofuel and bioenergy production, as well as their impact on ecosystem services (ESS). However, it is not clear what differentiates environmental assessment (EA) and ESS studies. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review and compared ESS and EA studies of biofuel and bioenergy production. We focused on topics such as whether both approaches allow for a holistic sustainability assessment of biofuel/bioenergy production, are suitable for practitioners, and which gaps for policymaking they can bridge. The results of the systematic review suggest that ESS studies tend to assess economic and social sustainability more prominently when compared to EA studies. Furthermore, ESS studies often assess ESS bundles and thereby cover multiple environmental impact categories, while EA studies focus more on selected environmental impacts (e.g., GHG emissions, air pollution, water quality and availability), targeting fewer environmental impacts to achieve slightly more feasible and reliable impact assessments (lower uncertainty). EA studies are dominated by life-cycle assessments. Contrastingly, ESS studies rather cover the entire social-ecological dimensions of biofuel and bioenergy production. Due to their systematic approach, they act as an envelope for multiple methodologies that can quantify the sustainability impacts of biofuel and bioenergy production. In this respect, it can be argued that ESS studies could support policymaking bridging some existing gaps such as the underrepresentation of social assessments in the EU RED.
- Environmental impact assessment
- Renewable Energy Directive
- Sustainability assessment