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Applying a science-based systems perspective to dispel misconceptions about climate effects of forest bioenergy

Affiliation
NSW Department of Primary Industries/University of New England, Armidale, Australia
Cowie, Annette L.;
Affiliation
Department of Space, Earth and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Goteborg, Sweden
Berndes, Göran;
Affiliation
Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg C, Denmark
Bentsen, Niclas Scott;
Affiliation
KTH – Royal Institute of Technology, Department of Sustainable Development, Environmental Science and Engineering, Stockholm, Sweden
Brandão, Miguel;
Affiliation
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway
Cherubini, Francesco;
Affiliation
Department of Forest Ecology and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå, Sweden
Egnell, Gustaf;
Affiliation
NSW Department of Primary Industries/University of New England, Armidale, Australia
George, Brendan;
Affiliation
Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden
Gustavsson, Leif;
Affiliation
University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
Hanewinkel, Marc;
Affiliation
Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom
Harris, Zoe M.;
Affiliation
Department of Space, Earth and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Goteborg, Sweden
Johnsson, Filip;
Affiliation
Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
Junginger, Martin;
Affiliation
Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, United States
Kline, Keith L.;
Affiliation
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, Espoo, Finland
Koponen, Kati;
Affiliation
ProBiomass BV, Apeldoorn, Netherlands
Koppejan, Jaap;
Affiliation
Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria
Kraxner, Florian;
Affiliation
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, United States
Lamers, Patrick;
Affiliation
DBFZ Deutsches Biomasseforschungszentrum gGmbH, Leipzig, Germany
Majer, Stefan;
Affiliation
Appalachian State University, Boone, United States
Marland, Eric;
Affiliation
Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, Netherlands
Nabuurs, Gert-Jan;
Affiliation
IEA Bioenergy TCP/CAPREA Sustainable Solutions, Mol, Belgium
Pelkmans, Luc;
Affiliation
Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden
Sathre, Roger;
Affiliation
Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
Schaub, Marcus;
Affiliation
University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
Smith, Charles Tattersall;
Affiliation
Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), Helsinki, Finland
Soimakallio, Sampo;
Affiliation
Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
Van Der Hilst, Floor;
Affiliation
Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom
Woods, Jeremy;
Affiliation
NSW Department of Primary Industries/University of New England, Armidale, Australia
Ximenes, Fabiano A.

The scientific literature contains contrasting findings about the climate effects of forest bioenergy, partly due to the wide diversity of bioenergy systems and associated contexts, but also due to differences in assessment methods. The climate effects of bioenergy must be accurately assessed to inform policy-making, but the complexity of bioenergy systems and associated land, industry and energy systems raises challenges for assessment. We examine misconceptions about climate effects of forest bioenergy and discuss important considerations in assessing these effects and devising measures to incentivize sustainable bioenergy as a component of climate policy. The temporal and spatial system boundary and the reference (counterfactual) scenarios are key methodology choices that strongly influence results. Focussing on carbon balances of individual forest stands and comparing emissions at the point of combustion neglect system-level interactions that influence the climate effects of forest bioenergy. We highlight the need for a systems approach, in assessing options and developing policy for forest bioenergy that: (1) considers the whole life cycle of bioenergy systems, including effects of the associated forest management and harvesting on landscape carbon balances; (2) identifies how forest bioenergy can best be deployed to support energy system transformation required to achieve climate goals; and (3) incentivizes those forest bioenergy systems that augment the mitigation value of the forest sector as a whole. Emphasis on short-term emissions reduction targets can lead to decisions that make medium- to long-term climate goals more difficult to achieve. The most important climate change mitigation measure is the transformation of energy, industry and transport systems so that fossil carbon remains underground. Narrow perspectives obscure the significant role that bioenergy can play by displacing fossil fuels now, and supporting energy system transition. Greater transparency and consistency is needed in greenhouse gas reporting and accounting related to bioenergy.

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