Assessing the potential for unaccounted emissions from bioenergy and the implications for forests: U.S. and global


Funk, Jason, Nicklas Forsell, John S. Gunn, and David Burns. “Assessing the potential for unaccounted emissions from bioenergy and the implications for forests: U.S. and global.” Global Change Biology - Bioenergy 14, no. 3 (2022): 322-345.


Development of the bioenergy sector is being actively pursued in many countries
as a means to reduce climate change and fulfill international climate agreements
such as the Paris Agreement. Although biomass for energy production (especially
wood pellets) can replace carbon-intensive
fossil fuels, its net greenhouse gas impact
varies, and the production of wood pellets can also lead to intensification in
forest harvests and reduction of forest carbon stocks. Additionally, under specific
conditions, emissions associated with imported biomass feedstocks may be omitted
from national accounts, due to incompatibilities in accounting approaches. We
assessed the risks and potential scale of emissions omitted from accounts (EOA)
among key trading regions, focusing on the demand for wood pellets under different
levels of climate mitigation targets. Our results suggest that the global production
of wood pellets would grow from 38.9 to 120 Mton/year between 2019 and
2050 in a scenario that limits global mean temperature increase to 1.5°C above
levels. A large portion of this occurs in North America (36.8 Mton/
year by 2050), Europe (47.6 Mton/year by 2050), and Asia (23.3 Mton/year by
2050). We estimate that in a 1.5°C scenario, global EOA associated with international
trade of wood pellets has the potential to reach 23.81 MtCO2eq/year by
2030 and 69.52 MtCO2eq/year in 2050. Emissions resulting from European biomass
energy production, based on wood pellet imports from the United States,
may reach 11.68 MtCO2eq/year by 2030 and 33.57 MtCO2eq/year in 2050. The
production of wood pellet feedstocks may also present a substantial carbon price
arbitrage opportunity for bioenergy producers through a conjunction of two distinct
GHG accounting rules. If this opportunity is realized, it could accelerate the
growth of the bioenergy industry to levels that harm forests’ function as a carbon
sink and omit actual emissions in national and global accounting frameworks.

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Last updated on 02/14/2022