IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Correcting a fundamental error in greenhouse gas accounting related to bioenergy


  • Haberl, Helmut
  • Sprinz, Detlef
  • Bonazountas, Marc
  • Cocco, Pierluigi
  • Desaubies, Yves
  • Henze, Mogens
  • Hertel, Ole
  • Johnson, Richard K.
  • Kastrup, Ulrike
  • Laconte, Pierre
  • Lange, Eckart
  • Novak, Peter
  • Paavola, Jouni
  • Reenberg, Anette
  • van den Hove, Sybille
  • Vermeire, Theo
  • Wadhams, Peter
  • Searchinger, Timothy


Many international policies encourage a switch from fossil fuels to bioenergy based on the premise that its use would not result in carbon accumulation in the atmosphere. Frequently cited bioenergy goals would at least double the present global human use of plant material, the production of which already requires the dedication of roughly 75% of vegetated lands and more than 70% of water withdrawals. However, burning biomass for energy provision increases the amount of carbon in the air just like burning coal, oil or gas if harvesting the biomass decreases the amount of carbon stored in plants and soils, or reduces carbon sequestration. Neglecting this fact results in an accounting error that could be corrected by considering that only the use of ‘additional biomass’ – biomass from additional plant growth or biomass that would decompose rapidly if not used for bioenergy – can reduce carbon emissions. Failure to correct this accounting flaw will likely have substantial adverse consequences. The article presents recommendations for correcting greenhouse gas accounts related to bioenergy.

Suggested Citation

  • Haberl, Helmut & Sprinz, Detlef & Bonazountas, Marc & Cocco, Pierluigi & Desaubies, Yves & Henze, Mogens & Hertel, Ole & Johnson, Richard K. & Kastrup, Ulrike & Laconte, Pierre & Lange, Eckart & Novak, 2012. "Correcting a fundamental error in greenhouse gas accounting related to bioenergy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 18-23.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:45:y:2012:i:c:p:18-23
    DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2012.02.051

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:eee:ecomod:v:223:y:2011:i:1:p:59-66 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Karl-Heinz Erb & Simone Gingrich & Fridolin Krausmann & Helmut Haberl, 2008. "Industrialization, Fossil Fuels, and the Transformation of Land Use," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 12(5-6), pages 686-703, October.
    3. Krausmann, Fridolin & Erb, Karl-Heinz & Gingrich, Simone & Lauk, Christian & Haberl, Helmut, 2008. "Global patterns of socioeconomic biomass flows in the year 2000: A comprehensive assessment of supply, consumption and constraints," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(3), pages 471-487, April.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Holtsmark, Bjart & Hoel, Michael & Holtsmark, Katinka, 2013. "Optimal harvest age considering multiple carbon pools – A comment," Journal of Forest Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 87-95.
    2. Ping, Xiaoge & Jiang, Zhigang & Li, Chunwang, 2012. "Social and ecological effects of biomass utilization and the willingness to use clean energy in the eastern Qinghai–Tibet plateau," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 828-833.
    3. repec:eee:enepol:v:110:y:2017:i:c:p:434-446 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Erb, Karl-Heinz & Haberl, Helmut & Plutzar, Christoph, 2012. "Dependency of global primary bioenergy crop potentials in 2050 on food systems, yields, biodiversity conservation and political stability," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 260-269.
    5. Repo, Anna & Ahtikoski, Anssi & Liski, Jari, 2015. "Cost of turning forest residue bioenergy to carbon neutral," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 12-21.
    6. Ekholm, Tommi & Karvosenoja, Niko & Tissari, Jarkko & Sokka, Laura & Kupiainen, Kaarle & Sippula, Olli & Savolahti, Mikko & Jokiniemi, Jorma & Savolainen, Ilkka, 2014. "A multi-criteria analysis of climate, health and acidification impacts due to greenhouse gases and air pollution—The case of household-level heating technologies," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 499-509.
    7. Mao, Chunlan & Feng, Yongzhong & Wang, Xiaojiao & Ren, Guangxin, 2015. "Review on research achievements of biogas from anaerobic digestion," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 540-555.
    8. Haberl, Helmut & Kastner, Thomas & Schaffartzik, Anke & Ludwiczek, Nikolaus & Erb, Karl-Heinz, 2012. "Global effects of national biomass production and consumption: Austria's embodied HANPP related to agricultural biomass in the year 2000," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(C), pages 66-73.
    9. repec:eee:ecomod:v:248:y:2013:i:c:p:130-134 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Schaffartzik, Anke & Plank, Christina & Brad, Alina, 2014. "Ukraine and the great biofuel potential? A political material flow analysis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 12-21.
    11. Lintunen, Jussi & Uusivuori, Jussi, 2016. "On the economics of forests and climate change: Deriving optimal policies," Journal of Forest Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(C), pages 130-156.
    12. repec:eee:appene:v:198:y:2017:i:c:p:410-425 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Capellán-Pérez, Iñigo & Mediavilla, Margarita & de Castro, Carlos & Carpintero, Óscar & Miguel, Luis Javier, 2014. "Fossil fuel depletion and socio-economic scenarios: An integrated approach," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 641-666.
    14. Trainer, Ted, 2012. "Can Australia run on renewable energy? The negative case," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 306-314.
    15. de Castro, Carlos & Carpintero, Óscar & Frechoso, Fernando & Mediavilla, Margarita & de Miguel, Luis J., 2014. "A top-down approach to assess physical and ecological limits of biofuels," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 506-512.
    16. Baudry, Gino & Delrue, Florian & Legrand, Jack & Pruvost, Jérémy & Vallée, Thomas, 2017. "The challenge of measuring biofuel sustainability: A stakeholder-driven approach applied to the French case," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 933-947.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:45:y:2012:i:c:p:18-23. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.