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Back to the past: Burning wood to save the globe

Craig Johnston and Gerrit van Kooten

Ecological Economics, 2015, vol. 120, issue C, 185-193

Abstract: In an effort to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning, renewable energy policies incentivize use of forest biomass as an energy source. Many governments have assumed (legislated) the carbon flux from burning biomass to be neutral because biomass growth sequesters CO2. Yet, trees take decades to recover the CO2 released by burning, so assumed emissions neutrality (or near neutrality) implies that climate change is not considered an urgent matter. As biomass energy continues to be a significant strategy for transitioning away from fossil fuels, this paper asks the question: To what extent should we value future atmospheric carbon removals? To answer this, we examine the assumptions and pitfalls of biomass carbon sequestration in light of its increasing use as a fossil-fuel alternative. This study demonstrates that the assumed carbon neutrality of biomass for energy production hinges on the fact that we weakly discount future removals of carbon, and it is sensitive to tree species and the nature of the fuel for which biomass substitutes.

Keywords: Bioenergy; Climate change; Forestry; Life cycle analysis; Discounting (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: C63 Q23 Q42 Q50 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2015
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DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2015.10.008

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