Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Climate Scientists Uncover Major Accounting Flaw In Kyoto Protocol And Other Climate Legislation

Date:
October 23, 2009
Source:
University of California - Berkeley
Summary:
Scientists have 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. They propose a fix that accounts for the direct and indirect land use impacts of biofuels.

Current carbon accounting, used in the Kyoto Protocol and other climate legislation including the European Union's cap-and-trade law and the American Clean Energy and Security Act, does not factor CO2 released from tailpipes and smokestacks utilizing bioenergy nor does it count emissions resulting from land use changes when biomass is harvested or grown.
Credit: iStockphoto

An international team of top climate scientists has found a critical, but fixable, error in the accounting method used to measure compliance with carbon limits. The flaw, which centers on the measurement of CO2 emissions from the use of bioenergy, could undermine greenhouse gas reduction goals if not addressed.

Current carbon accounting, used in the Kyoto Protocol and other climate legislation including the European Union's cap-and-trade law and the American Clean Energy and Security Act, does not factor CO2 released from tailpipes and smokestacks utilizing bioenergy nor does it count emissions resulting from land use changes when biomass is harvested or grown. This, the scientists say, erroneously treats all uses of bioenergy as carbon neutral, regardless of the source of the biomass, and could create strong economic incentives for large-scale land conversion as countries around the world tighten carbon caps.

"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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Berkeley. The original article was written by Robert Sanders, Media Relations. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error. Science, October 23, 2009

Cite This Page:

University of California - Berkeley. "Climate Scientists Uncover Major Accounting Flaw In Kyoto Protocol And Other Climate Legislation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 October 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091022141126.htm>.
University of California - Berkeley. (2009, October 23). Climate Scientists Uncover Major Accounting Flaw In Kyoto Protocol And Other Climate Legislation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091022141126.htm
University of California - Berkeley. "Climate Scientists Uncover Major Accounting Flaw In Kyoto Protocol And Other Climate Legislation." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091022141126.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

AP (July 24, 2014) Mobile phone companies and communities across the country are going to new lengths to disguise those unsightly cellphone towers. From a church bell tower to a flagpole, even a pencil, some towers are trying to make a point. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Observation Boat to Protect Cetaceans During Ship Transfer

Observation Boat to Protect Cetaceans During Ship Transfer

AFP (July 22, 2014) As part of the 14-ship convoy that will accompany the Costa Concordia from the port of Giglio to the port of Genoa, there will be a boat carrying experts to look out for dolphins and whales from crossing the path of the Concordia. Duration: 01:02 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

AP (July 21, 2014) New Orleans is the first U.S. city to participate in a large-scale recycling effort for cigarette butts. The city is rolling out dozens of containers for smokers to use when they discard their butts. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins