Correcting a fundamental error in greenhouse gas accounting related to bioenergy

Publication: Research - peer-reviewJournal article – Annual report year: 2012

  • Author: Haberl, Helmut, Austria

    Alpen-Adria Universitaet Klagenfurt, Institute of Social Ecology, Austria

  • Author: Sprinz, Detlef, Germany

    PIK-Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany

  • Author: Bonazountas, Marc, Greece

    National Technical University of Athens, Greece

  • Author: Cocco, Pierluigi, Italy

    University of Cagliari, Department of Public Health, Italy

  • Author: Desaubies, Yves, France

    Mersea Conseil, France

  • Author: Henze, Mogens

    Urban Water Engineering, Department of Environmental Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark

  • Author: Hertel, Ole, Denmark

    Aarhus University, Department of Environmental Science, Denmark

  • Author: Johnson, Richard K., Sweden

    Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment, Sweden

  • Author: Kastrup, Ulrike, Switzerland

    focus Terra-Earth Science Research & Information Centre, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

  • Author: Laconte, Pierre, Belgium

    Abdijdreef, Belgium

  • Author: Lange, Eckart, United Kingdom

    University of Sheffield, United Kingdom

  • Author: Novak, Peter, Slovenia

    Faculty for High Technologies and Systems, Slovenia

  • Author: Paavola, Jouni, United Kingdom

    University of Leeds,Sustainability Research Institute, United Kingdom

  • Author: Reenberg, Anette, Denmark

    University of Copenhagen, Department of Geography and Geology, Denmark

  • Author: van den Hove, Sybille, Spain

    Median SCP, Spain

  • Author: Vermeire, Theo, Netherlands

    National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Netherlands

  • Author: Wadhams, Peter, United Kingdom

    University of Cambridge,Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP), United Kingdom

  • Author: Searchinger, Timothy, United States

    Princeton University, United States

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Many international policies encourage a switch from fossil fuels to bioenergy based on the premise that its use would not result in carbon accumulation in the atmosphere. Frequently cited bioenergy goals would at least double the present global human use of plant material, the production of which already requires the dedication of roughly 75% of vegetated lands and more than 70% of water withdrawals. However, burning biomass for energy provision increases the amount of carbon in the air just like burning coal, oil or gas if harvesting the biomass decreases the amount of carbon stored in plants and soils, or reduces carbon sequestration. Neglecting this fact results in an accounting error that could be corrected by considering that only the use of ‘additional biomass’ – biomass from additional plant growth or biomass that would decompose rapidly if not used for bioenergy – can reduce carbon emissions. Failure to correct this accounting flaw will likely have substantial adverse consequences. The article presents recommendations for correcting greenhouse gas accounts related to bioenergy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnergy Policy
Publication date2012
CitationsWeb of Science® Times Cited: 16


  • Bioenergy, Greenhouse gas emissions, Greenhouse gas accounting
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ID: 7775295