Advertisement
No access
Policy Forum
Climate Change

Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error

Rules for applying the Kyoto Protocol and national cap-and-trade laws contain a major, but fixable, carbon accounting flaw in assessing bioenergy.
Science
23 Oct 2009
Vol 326, Issue 5952
pp. 527-528

Abstract

The accounting now used for assessing compliance with carbon limits in the Kyoto Protocol and in climate legislation contains a far-reaching but fixable flaw that will severely undermine greenhouse gas reduction goals (1). It does not count CO2 emitted from tailpipes and smokestacks when bioenergy is being used, but it also does not count changes in emissions from land use when biomass for energy is harvested or grown. This accounting erroneously treats all bioenergy as carbon neutral regardless of the source of the biomass, which may cause large differences in net emissions. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in energy emissions despite causing large releases of carbon.

Get full access to this article

View all available purchase options and get full access to this article.

Supplementary Material

File (527.mp3)
File (searchinger.som.pdf)

References and Notes

1
Additional references supporting the themes of this Policy Forum can be found in the supporting online material.
2
Wise M., et al., Science 324, 1183 (2009).
3
Melillo J. M., et al., Unintended Environmental Consequences of a Global Biofuel Program (MIT Joint Program Report Series, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, 2009).
4
International Energy Agency, Energy Technology Perspectives: In Support of the G8 Plan of Action: Scenarios and Strategies to 2050 [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)/IEA, Paris, 2008].
5
IPCC, 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, prepared by the National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Programme [Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Tokyo, Japan, 2007].
6
Manichetti E., Otto M., in Biofuels: Environmental Consequences and Interactions with Changing Land Use: Proceedings of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment,, Howarth R. W., Bringezu S., Eds. (Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY, 2009), pp. 81–109.
7
Searchinger T., et al., Science 319, 1238 (2008).
8
Fargione J., Hill J., Tilman D., Polasky S., Hawthorne P., Science 319, 1235 (2008).
9
Watson R., et al., Eds., Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2000).
10
UNFCCC, Report of the Conference of the Parties on Its Seventh Session: Action taken by the COP (FCCC/CP/20001/13/Add.1, UNFCCC, Geneva, 2002), Addendum, part 2.
11
UNFCCC, Updated UNFCCC reporting guidelines on annual inventories following incorporation of the provisions of decision 14/CP.11 [FCCC/Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA)/2006/9, Geneva, 2006], p. 23.
12
European Commission, Directive 2003/87/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 October 2003, Official Journal of the European Union L 275, 25.10.2003.
13
The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, H.R. 2454, 111th Cong., 1st Sess. (as passed by U.S. House of Representatives July 2009).
14
Searchinger T. D., in Biofuels: Environmental Consequences and Interactions with Changing Land Use: Proceedings of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment,, Howarth R. W., Bringezu S., Eds. (Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY, 2009), pp. 37–52.

(0)eLetters

eLetters is an online forum for ongoing peer review. Submission of eLetters are open to all. eLetters are not edited, proofread, or indexed. Please read our Terms of Service before submitting your own eLetter.

Log In to Submit a Response

No eLetters have been published for this article yet.

Information & Authors

Information

Published In

Science
Volume 326 | Issue 5952
23 October 2009

Submission history

Published in print: 23 October 2009

Permissions

Request permissions for this article.

Acknowledgments

The authors express thanks for the support of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Authors

Affiliations

Timothy D. Searchinger* [email protected]
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.
Steven P. Hamburg* [email protected]
Environmental Defense Fund, Boston, MA 02108, and Washington, DC 20009, USA.
Jerry Melillo
Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.
William Chameides
Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.
Petr Havlik
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg 2361, Austria.
Daniel M. Kammen
University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
Gene E. Likens
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY 12545, USA.
Ruben N. Lubowski
Environmental Defense Fund, Boston, MA 02108, and Washington, DC 20009, USA.
Michael Obersteiner
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg 2361, Austria.
Michael Oppenheimer
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.
G. Philip Robertson
Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, MI 49060, USA.
William H. Schlesinger
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY 12545, USA.
G. David Tilman
University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA.

Notes

*
Authors for correspondence. E-mail: [email protected] (S.P.H.); [email protected] (T.D.S.).

Metrics & Citations

Metrics

Article Usage
Altmetrics

Citations

Export citation

Select the format you want to export the citation of this publication.

Cited by

  1. How to halve the carbon and biodiversity impacts of biofuel-driven land-use change in Brazil, Biological Conservation, 260, (109214), (2021).https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2021.109214
    Crossref
  2. What are the impacts of the wood pellet industry on biodiversity in Southeastern USA? A systematic evidence synthesis, Forest Ecology and Management, 483, (118773), (2021).https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2020.118773
    Crossref
  3. Climate urgency and the timing of carbon fluxes, Biomass and Bioenergy, 151, (106162), (2021).https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biombioe.2021.106162
    Crossref
  4. Carbon accounting for negative emissions technologies, Climate Policy, 21, 5, (699-717), (2021).https://doi.org/10.1080/14693062.2021.1878009
    Crossref
  5. Assessment of emissions from residential combustion in Southeast Asia and implications for climate forcing potential, Science of The Total Environment, 785, (147311), (2021).https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.147311
    Crossref
  6. Influence of material choice, renovation rate, and electricity grid to achieve a Paris Agreement-compatible building stock: A Portuguese case study, Building and Environment, 195, (107773), (2021).https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2021.107773
    Crossref
  7. Transition pathways towards a deep decarbonization energy system—A case study in Sichuan, China, Applied Energy, 302, (117507), (2021).https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2021.117507
    Crossref
  8. Institutional mechanisms to keep unburnable fossil fuel reserves in the soil, Energy Policy, 149, (112029), (2021).https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2020.112029
    Crossref
  9. Applying a science‐based systems perspective to dispel misconceptions about climate effects of forest bioenergy, GCB Bioenergy, 13, 8, (1210-1231), (2021).https://doi.org/10.1111/gcbb.12844
    Crossref
  10. Carbon neutrality should not be the end goal: Lessons for institutional climate action from U.S. higher education, One Earth, 4, 9, (1248-1258), (2021).https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2021.08.014
    Crossref
  11. See more
Loading...

View Options

Check Access

Log in to view the full text

AAAS ID LOGIN

AAAS login provides access to Science for AAAS Members, and access to other journals in the Science family to users who have purchased individual subscriptions.

Log in via OpenAthens.
Log in via Shibboleth.
More options

Purchase digital access to this article

Download and print this article for your personal scholarly, research, and educational use.

Purchase this issue in print

Buy a single issue of Science for just $15 USD.

View options

PDF format

Download this article as a PDF file

Download PDF

Full Text

FULL TEXT

Media

Figures

Multimedia

Tables

Share

Share

Share article link

Share on social media