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Research Report

Improved methods for carbon accounting for bioenergy: Descriptions and evaluations

Naomi Pena
David Neil Bird
Giuliana Zanchi
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2011
Pages: 52
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    Accounting systems strongly influence decisions, and pressure is increasing to alter the accounting system used to calculate emissions due to bioenergy under the Kyoto Protocol and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) (Peters et al. 2009, Searchinger et al. 2009). The current accounting system does not capture the full extent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by bioenergy, and hence encourages nations and energy producers to use more bioenergy than is justified by the amount of GHG emission reductions it achieves.

    Under the Kyoto Protocol accounting system, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions released from use of biomass are counted not in...

  2. (pp. 3-8)

    The basic reason for using bioenergy to help mitigate climate change is that—in contrast to fossil fuel carbon stocks—biomass carbon stocks can be replenished relatively quickly by growing new biomass. However, the emissions from combusting biomass and the replenishment of carbon stocks generally take place in different locations, often in countries far from each other, and in different time periods. This creates challenges for accounting systems if overall emissions are to be accounted for accurately but not all countries account for their emissions.

    Each approach to accounting for emissions from use of bioenergy that has been implemented or...

  3. (pp. 9-18)

    The 0-combustion factor approach was designed for, and works well under, full reporting of GHG emissions by all nations. This condition, namely, global reporting of emissions of all greenhouse gases and changes in terrestrial carbon stocks, is largely satisfied under UNFCCC reporting. However, under the Kyoto Protocol, only a limited number of nations have obligations to account for emissions. The analyses in this report assume that this situation—non-global accounting of emissions—will continue in the near future.

    Alternative bioenergy accounting approaches, proposed to better align bioenergy use with its GHG consequences, have been largely developed in response to the...

  4. (pp. 19-26)

    One of the most problematic aspects in selecting or reaching agreement on an internationally applicable accounting system for bioenergy and related land-use sector emissions stems from the fact that the condition of forests and croplands varies greatly from nation to nation. In most developed countries, a significant proportion of forest land was converted to croplands during past centuries. These nations therefore have ample land on which to produce biomass for biofuels without causing extensive emissions from deforestation in current time periods. In many developing countries, however, significant conversion of forests to croplands is still, or only now, underway. This conversion...

  5. (pp. 27-34)

    In this section, we consider the implications of different bioenergy accounting systems for stakeholder goals because of the prominence of these goals in bioenergy discussions and policy. Accounting systems support or hinder goals because they tend to provide incentives or disincentives for specific actions. As suggested in Section 1, the unmodified 0-combustion factor system provides strong incentives for both nations and energy producers to use bioenergy to meet GHG obligations, particularly if related carbon stock losses occur in another entity’s account.

    This system supports goals such as energy independence, energy diversity and rural economic development, so long as the biomass...

  6. (pp. 35-38)

    The way in which the Kyoto Protocol and EU-ETS accounting systems address bioenergy emissions gives entities with GHG obligations an incentive to use bioenergy at the expense of maintenance of carbon stocks. The purpose of this report was to examine alternative approaches to accounting for bioenergy emissions that could potentially redress this system weakness.

    The weakness occurs because the Kyoto Protocol’s accounting system counts emissions due to bioenergy use as carbon stock losses in the land use sector, rather than as combustion in the energy sector. However, many nations do not submit accounts under the Kyoto Protocol, and so carbon...