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Implications of uncertain future fossil energy resources on bioenergy use and terrestrial carbon emissions

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The magnitude and character of the global resource base of fossil fuels is a key determinant of the evolution of the future global energy system and corresponding fossil fuel carbon emissions. What is less well understood is the potential magnitude of impact of the availability of fossil fuels, due to the interaction with biomass energy, on agriculture, land use, ecosystems and therefore carbon emissions from land-use change. This paper explores these links and implications. We show that if oil resources are limited, then the consequently higher price for liquids induces both the use of coal-to-liquids technology deployment, but also enhanced production of bioenergy crops particularly in a business-as-usual scenario. This in turn implies greater pressure to convert unmanaged ecosystems to produce bioenergy, and higher rates of terrestrial carbon emissions from land use.

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  1. 1 Zettajoule = 1021 Joules

  2. Within each region, crop and bioenergy expansion displaces forests and other ecosystems at different rates depending on a number of factors, including the initial extent of each ecosystem in the region and the perceived value of those ecosystems.

  3. The policy imposed in this paper applies a uniform price on carbon to all regions of the world beginning in 2015. The price is adjusted to ensure that the target of 550 ppmv CO2-e is not exceeded at any point in time. The price applies to emissions of CO2 in the energy and industrial system, as well as to emissions of Kyoto gases in all sectors of the economy.


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The authors are grateful for research support provided by Stiftung Mercator ( The authors also wish to express appreciation to the Integrated Assessment Research Program in the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy for long-term support that enabled the development of the Global Change Assessment Model, which was used in the conduct of this research. This research also used Evergreen computing resources at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland in College Park, which is supported by DOE SC-IARP.

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Correspondence to Katherine Calvin.

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This article is part of a Special Issue on “The Impact of Economic Growth and Fossil Fuel Availability on Climate Protection” with Guest Editors Elmar Kriegler, Ottmar Edenhofer, Ioanna Mouratiadou, Gunnar Luderer, and Jae Edmonds.

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Figure S1

The High, Medium, and Low curves are the supply curves input into GCAM (labeled “Input”). The four BAU curves are the cumulative production/price mappings that result from the scenarios (labeled “Output”). Input costs and output prices differ due to the inclusion of transportation and other costs in the output price. (DOC 147 kb)

Figure S2

Total Global Fossil Fuel Production in the BAU Scenarios (DOC 64 kb)

Figure S3

Cropland and Bioenergy Land by Aggregate Region in the BAU Scenarios (DOC 162 kb)

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Calvin, K., Wise, M., Luckow, P. et al. Implications of uncertain future fossil energy resources on bioenergy use and terrestrial carbon emissions. Climatic Change 136, 57–68 (2016).

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