Bioenergy Is Not A ‘GET OUT OF JAIL FREE’ Card

Bioenergy had a starring role in this week’s workshop on developed country emission reduction targets. The theme of many parties was reducing energy sector emissions by substituting bioenergy for fossil fuels.

At last, Mexico sounded a note of caution in their presentation in the workshop on NAMAs, pointing out that reliance on biofuels is difficult to do sustainably, can be harmful in terms of conservation and REDD targets, and can impact on agriculture

Bioenergy - a clean alternative?

Bioenergy leaves a carbon footprint which is largely ignored when proposed as an alternative. This is an unacceptable situation as we face exponential growth in this energy source which is being justified in the name of addressing climate change.

The worry arising from tremendous expansion of bioenergy production from land and forests is not just the unintended consequences of constraining food supply and the potential to destroy biodiversity, as important as those are. There are also problems arising directly from the failure to address deficiencies of accounting rules in the KP.

ECO is compelled to point out that although the use of bioenergy is often claimed to be carbon neutral, this is rarely so. The emissions released from producing and burning bioenergy can be much larger than those for fossil fuels, especially when converted to liquid fuels or where grown on emissive peat soils, as shown in the chart.

Developed countries:

Actual emissions, fake accounting

Equally rare is accounting for the actual emissions. Yes, it’s that old problem – the LULUCF rules – once again!

Under existing IPCC guidance, bioenergy is accounted as carbon neutral when it is combusted in the energy sector, as it is a renewable energy source. But the crucial presumption underpinning this is that emissions associated with the provision of bioenergy have been accounted for in their sector of origin (i.e., the land use and forestry sector) in their country of origin and netted out against carbon sequestration in growing the bioenergy crop in the first place.

In developed countries this assumption founders on the failure of the LULUCF rules to mandate accounting for either forestry or cropland management. Currently, many parties choose not to do this. There isn’t even a proposal on the table that all parties must account for all LULUCF emissions including cropland management, in which case parties won’t include those activities in their reporting when they are emissive. In addition, the proposal for projected reference levels for forest management in the KP second commitment period opens a new kind of loophole, and this is a very concerning development also for accounting bioenergy emissions specifically.