, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 319-330,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Baseline time accounting: Considering global land use dynamics when estimating the climate impact of indirect land use change caused by biofuels

Abstract

Purpose

Current estimations of the climate impact from indirect land use change (ILUC) caused by biofuels are heavily influenced by assumptions regarding the biofuel production period. The purpose of this paper is to propose a new method (baseline time accounting) that takes global land use dynamics into account that is consistent with the global warming potential, that is applicable to any phenomenon causing land use change, and that is independent of production period assumptions.

Methods

We consider ILUC in two forms. The first is called “accelerated expansion” and concerns ILUC in regions with an expanding agricultural area. The second is called “delayed reversion” and concerns ILUC in regions with a decreasing agricultural area. We use recent trends in international land use and projections of future land use change to assess how ILUC from biofuels will alter the development in global agricultural land use dynamics compared to the existing trend (i.e., the baseline development). We then use the definition of the global warming potential to determine the CO2 equivalence of the change in land use dynamics.

Results and discussion

We apply baseline time accounting to two existing ILUC studies in the literature. With current trends in global agricultural land use, the method significantly reduces the estimated climate impact in the previous ILUC studies (by more than half). Sensitivity analyses show that results are somewhat sensitive to assumptions regarding carbon sequestration and assumptions regarding postreversion ecosystems.

Conclusions

The global dynamic development in land use has important implications for the time accounting step when estimating the climate impact of ILUC caused by biofuel production or other issues affecting land use. Ignoring this may lead to erroneous conclusions about the actual climate impact of ILUC. Several land use projections indicate that the global agricultural area will keep expanding up to and beyond 2050. We therefore recommend to apply the baseline time accounting concept as an integrated part of future ILUC studies and to update the results on a regular basis.

Responsible editor: Llorenc Milà i Canals