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Trade-offs of different land and bioenergy policies on the path to achieving climate targets

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Many papers have shown that bioenergy and land-use are potentially important elements in a strategy to limit anthropogenic climate change. But, significant expansion of bioenergy production can have a large terrestrial footprint. In this paper, we test the implications for land use, the global energy system, emissions and mitigation costs of meeting a specific climate target, using a single fossil fuel and industrial sector policy instrument, but with five alternative bioenergy and land-use policy architectures. These scenarios are illustrative in nature, and designed to explore trade-offs. We find that the policies we examined have differing effects on the different segments of the economy. Comprehensive land policies can reduce land-use change emissions, increasing allowable emissions in the energy system, but have implications for the cost of food. Bioenergy penalties and constraints, on the other hand, have little effect on food prices, but result in less bioenergy and thus can increase mitigation costs and energy prices.

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  1. It is important to note that the exact magnitude of the difference between the two scenarios depends on assumptions about bioenergy feedstocks and agricultural productivity. Varying these assumptions could result in smaller (or larger) changes in land cover and LUC emissions across scenarios.

  2. Note that, in each GCAM scenario, the carbon that is physically contained in each bioenergy crop is treated as net zero or carbon neutral on a life-cycle basis. That is, the carbon that would be emitted when the bioenergy is used, in the absence of CCS, is assumed to be removed from the atmosphere as the bioenergy is grown. This is completely distinct from emissions from land-use change.

  3. Note that this is the default policy used in the GCAM EMF27 scenarios. Thus, the UCT scenario is identical to the 550 AllTech scenario described in Kriegler et al. (2013).

  4. In this paper, we use bioenergy to refer to a number of different feedstocks (see Fig. 1). It is important to note that only 1st and 2nd generation bioenergy require dedicated land area for their production. The other forms of bioenergy are co-products of other processes.

  5. There is a very small increase in global forested land in the 99 % Land and 99 % Forest scenarios. In these scenarios, we have prevented expansion of commercial forest into non-commercial forest. As a result, increases in demand for wood products cause an expansion of total forested lands, which encroach on other ecosystems, including agricultural lands.

  6. We do not allow a reduction in food grain consumption in response to price, but do allow meat consumption to respond to price increases. The price elasticity is fairly low, however.


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The authors are grateful for research support provided by the Integrated Assessment Research Program in the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Global Technology Strategy Program. This research used Evergreen computing resources at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL) Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland in College Park. The views and opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors alone.

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Correspondence to Katherine Calvin.

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This article is part of the Special Issue on “The EMF27 Study on Global Technology and Climate Policy Strategies” edited by John Weyant, Elmar Kriegler, Geoffrey Blanford, Volker Krey, Jae Edmonds, Keywan Riahi, Richard Richels, and Massimo Tavoni.

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Calvin, K., Wise, M., Kyle, P. et al. Trade-offs of different land and bioenergy policies on the path to achieving climate targets. Climatic Change 123, 691–704 (2014).

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