A team of 13 prominent scientists and land-use experts has identified an important but fixable error in legal accounting rules for bioenergy that could, if uncorrected, undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by encouraging deforestation.
The error, reported in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Science, involves an issue that is at the heart of ongoing discussions about how biofuels and land use change will be treated under the global climate treaty nations are developing for the December summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"The error is serious, but readily fixable," said Timothy Searchinger, a research scholar and lecturer in public and international affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School and at the Princeton Environmental Initiative. He also is a fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
"As we approach the most important climate treaty negotiations in history, it is vital that technologies, such as biofuels, that are proposed as solutions to global warming, are properly evaluated," said team member Daniel Kammen, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of energy and resources and of public policy, who directs the campus's? Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and the Transportation Sustainability Research Center. "Our paper builds on recent work on the direct and indirect land use impacts of biofuels, and clarifies how the accounting should be done."
The burning of bioenergy and fossil energy releases comparable amounts of carbon dioxide from tailpipes or smokestacks, but bioenergy use may reduce emissions overall if the biomass results from additional plant growth. This is because plants grown specifically for bioenergy absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this offsets the emissions from the eventual burning of the biomass for energy.
On the other hand, burning forests releases stored carbon into the atmosphere in the same way as burning oil releases carbon stored for millions of years underground. For these reasons, the greenhouse gas consequences of using bioenergy vary greatly with the source of the biomass.
Unfortunately, Kammen said, the accounting rules used in the Kyoto Protocol, the European Union's Emissions Trading System, and in the climate bill that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives, exempt the carbon dioxide emitted by bioenergy, regardless of the source of the biomass. That legally makes bioenergy from any source, even that generated by clearing the world's forests, a potentially cheap, yet false, way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by oil companies, power plants and industry as they face tighter pollution limits.
According to a number of studies, including one by a U.S. Department of Energy lab, applying this incentive globally could lead to the loss of most of the world's natural forests as carbon caps tighten.
The Science article, co-authored by Searchinger, Kammen and 11 others, explains that the error stems from a misapplication of guidelines established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the time of the Kyoto Protocol.
According to the IPCC, exempting carbon dioxide from bioenergy use is appropriate only if an accounting system also counts emissions from clearing land and other land use activities. In that way, if biomass for energy use results in deforestation, emissions are counted as land use emissions. However, the exemption of carbon dioxide from energy use is inappropriate for laws and treaties that do not legally limit emissions from deforestation and other land use activities. Neither the protocol, nor the existing or proposed climate legislation in Europe and the U.S., apply limits to emissions from land use. Because these laws nevertheless exempt all emissions from bioenergy use, the IPCC warns, they can therefore create large, perverse incentives to clear land.
This error in the system for administering carbon caps is distinct from other laws that require minimum quantities of biofuels. Many of these other laws do account for at least some of the emissions from land use activities.
According to the authors, the solution is to count all emissions from energy use, whether from fossil fuels or bioenergy, and then to develop a system to credit bioenergy to the extent it uses biomass derived from "additional" carbon sources, and thereby offsets energy emissions.
Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Spectrally narrow x-ray pulses may be “sharpened” by purely mechanical means. This sounds surprisingly, but a team of theoretical and experimental physicists developed and realized such a method. It is based on fast motions, precisely synchronized with the pulses, of a target interacting with the x-ray light. Thereby, photons are redistributed within the x-ray pulse to the desired spectral region.
A team of theoretical physicists from the MPI for Nuclear Physics (MPIK) in Heidelberg has developed a novel method to intensify the spectrally broad x-ray...
Physicists working with researcher Oriol Romero-Isart devised a new simple scheme to theoretically generate arbitrarily short and focused electromagnetic fields. This new tool could be used for precise sensing and in microscopy.
Microwaves, heat radiation, light and X-radiation are examples for electromagnetic waves. Many applications require to focus the electromagnetic fields to...
Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers
Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...
Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.
At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...
3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects
A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...
26.07.2017 | Event News
21.07.2017 | Event News
19.07.2017 | Event News
28.07.2017 | Health and Medicine
28.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
28.07.2017 | Life Sciences