Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Accounting error in climate treaties could lead to more deforestation

23.10.2009
Quick fix could prevent cut forests from being treated like other biomass

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!
Further information:
http://www.berkeley.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

nachricht A new indicator for marine ecosystem changes: the diatom/dinoflagellate index
21.08.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>