Bioenergy: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

9 June 2011

Renewable energy is playing a starring role in new energy policies, but ECO fears that bioenergy may be seen as ‘carbon neutral’ under false pretences.

Many forms of bioenergy have a substantially unrecognised carbon footprint. Under existing IPCC guidance, GHG emissions from bioenergy are not accounted for in the energy sector. Rather, the guidance assumes that the emissions associated with bioenergy use in Annex 1 countries will be reflected in accounting in the LULUCF sector. 

However, current LULUCF rules have ambushed this intention. While emissions from land-use change are accounted in the first commitment period of the KP, accounting for forest management and cropland management is voluntary. And it is the products of forest and cropland management that are burnt for bioenergy. As a result, these emissions are not necessarily accounted anywhere. Proposed accounting rules for forest management (in the second commitment period) could still allow Annex I parties to avoid accounting for the atmospheric impacts of forest-based bioenergy production and use, if Parties build pre-2010 bioenergy policies into their business-as-usual Reference Levels. There is no proposal to make accounting of cropland management mandatory.

Further, bioenergy sourced from non-Annex I countries and used in Annex I countries may escape capture in Annex I accounts.

The mistaken assumption that bioenergy is always ‘carbon neutral’ underlies a wide range of policies subsidising and otherwise favouring bioenergy. This is will catch up with us, and the planet.

It is time to bite the bullet and account for emissions from bioenergy in the sector of origin (the LULUCF sector) or in the end use sector (the energy sector). Ultimately, it may be necessary to account for different components of the carbon life cycle of bioenergy in different sectors, but the emissions must be included somewhere!

To find out more, saddle up and ride on in to the CAN side event 3:15 today in Tram.

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