Energy, Transport, & the Environment

pp 679-711


Global Consequences of the Bioenergy Greenhouse Gas Accounting Error

  • Tim SearchingerAffiliated withWoodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University Email author 

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Like the global financial crisis, which resulted in part from misguided accounting of mortgages, global policies to expand transportation biofuels and bioelectricity reflect an accounting error. Although the carbon accounting in these policies assumes that plant growth offsets all carbon released by burning biofuels, only “additional” plant growth can provide an offset. Because they double count biomass and land already used by people or sequestering carbon, many policy proposals aim for bioenergy to supply 20% or more of the world’s energy by 2050. That would require almost doubling the present global harvest of plants for all uses, which would likely lead to extensive deforestation and increase greenhouse gases. Fixing the accounting would focus policies on the more limited potential for truly low carbon biofuels.