Correcting a fundamental error in greenhouse gas accounting related to bioenergy

Helmut Haberl, Detlef Sprinz, Marc Bonazountas, Pierluigi Cocco, Yves Desaubies, Mogens Henze, Ole Hertel, Richard K. Johnson, Ulrike Kastrup, Pierre Laconte, Eckart Lange, Peter Novak, Jouni Paavola, Anette Reenberg, Sybille van den Hove, Theo Vermeire, Peter Wadhams, Timothy Searchinger

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    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
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


    • Bioenergy
    • Greenhouse gas emissions
    • Greenhouse gas accounting


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