Correcting a fundamental error in greenhouse gas accounting related to bioenergy

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

  • Author: Haberl, Helmut

    University of Klagenfurt, Austria

  • Author: Sprinz, Detlef

    Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany

  • Author: Bonazountas, Marc

    National Technical University of Athens, Greece

  • Author: Cocco, Pierluigi

    University of Cagliari, Italy

  • Author: Desaubies, Yves

    Mersea Conseil, France

  • Author: Henze, Mogens

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

  • Author: Hertel, Ole

    Aarhus University, Denmark

  • Author: Johnson, Richard K.

    Lund University, Sweden

  • Author: Kastrup, Ulrike

    Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland

  • Author: Laconte, Pierre

  • Author: Lange, Eckart

    University of Sheffield, United Kingdom

  • Author: Novak, Peter

    Faculty for High Technologies and Systems, Slovenia

  • Author: Paavola, Jouni

    University of Leeds, United Kingdom

  • Author: Reenberg, Anette

    University of Copenhagen, Denmark

  • Author: van den Hove, Sybille

    Median SCP, Spain

  • Author: Vermeire, Theo

    National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Netherlands

  • Author: Wadhams, Peter

    University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

  • Author: Searchinger, Timothy

    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
Pages (from-to)18-23
StatePublished - 2012
CitationsWeb of Science® Times Cited: 83


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