Resources Research

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘IEA

Energy, climate, growth, China, India – the World Energy Outlook 2012

leave a comment »

Inputs to the power sector to generate electricity accounted for 38% of global primary energy use in 2010, the single largest element of primary demand. In the New Policies Scenario, this share rises to 42% in 2035. Demand for electricity is pushed higher by population and economic growth, and by households and industries switching from traditional biomass, coal, oil and natural gas to electricity. The fuel mix within the power sector changes considerably, with low- and zero-carbon technologies becoming increasingly important. Graphic: IEA, WEO-2012

In four parts, 18 chapters, four annexes, illustrated by around 300 figures, the chapters supported by about 100 tables, a separate set of data upon which scenarios rest, the World Energy Outlook 2012 of the International Energy Agency (IEA) is a 690-page behemoth. I can only sketch its merest outline here, and in a fleeting way touch upon the knowledge and information it contains.

Drawing on the latest data and policy developments, the World Energy Outlook 2012 presents projections of energy trends through to 2035 and insights into what they mean for energy security, the environment and economic development. “Over the Outlook period, the interaction of many different factors will drive the evolution of energy markets,” said the WEO-2012. “As outcomes are hard to predict with accuracy, the report presents several different scenarios, which are differentiated primarily by their underlying assumptions about government policies.” We are told that the starting year of the scenarios is 2010, the latest year for which comprehensive historical energy data for all countries were available. What are these four scenarios?

Based on preliminary estimates, energy-related CO2 emissions reached a record 31.2 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2011, representing by far the largest source (around 60%) of global greenhouse-gas emissions (measured on a CO2-equivalent basis). Emissions continue to rise in the New Policies Scenario, putting the world on a path that is consistent with a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 °C above levels that prevailed at the start of the industrial era. Chart: IEA, WEO-2012

1. The New Policies Scenario – the report’s central scenario – takes into account broad policy commitments and plans that have already been implemented to address energy-related challenges as well as those that have been announced, even where the specific measures to implement these commitments have yet to be introduced.

2. To illustrate the outcome of our current course, if unchanged, the Current Policies Scenario embodies the effects of only those government policies and measures that had been enacted or adopted by mid-2012.

3. The basis of the 450 Scenario is different. Rather than being a projection based on past trends, modified by known policy actions, it deliberately selects a plausible energy pathway. The pathway chosen is consistent with actions having around a 50% chance of meeting the goal of limiting the global increase in average temperature to two degrees Celsius (2°C) in the long term, compared with pre-industrial levels.

4. The Efficient World Scenario has been developed especially for the World Energy Outlook 2012 (WEO-2012). It enables us to quantify the implications for the economy, the environment and energy security of a major step change in energy efficiency.

In the New Policies Scenario, global energy intensity (energy demand per unit of GDP) falls by 1.8% per year between 2010 and 2035. Between 2010 and 2035, energy intensity declines by an average of 37% and 49% in OECD and non-OECD countries respectively. Yet average energy intensity in non-OCED countries in 2035 of 0.16 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) per thousand dollars of GDP is still more than twice the OECD level. Chart: IEA, WEO-2012

I have extracted five important messages from the summary which are connected to the subjects you find in this blog – food and agriculture, consumer behaviour and its impacts on our lives, the uses that scarce energy is put to, the uses that scarce water is put to, the ways in which governments and societies (very different, these two) view food, energy and water.

Five key messages:
“Energy efficiency can keep the door to 2°C open for just a bit longer.” Successive editions of the World Energy Outlook have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2°C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes. The 450 Scenario examines the actions necessary to achieve this goal and finds that almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C goal.

“Will coal remain a fuel of choice?” Coal has met nearly half of the rise in global energy demand over the last decade, growing faster even than total renewables. Whether coal demand carries on rising strongly or changes course will depend on the strength of policy measures that favour lower-emissions energy sources, the deployment of more efficient coal-burning technologies and, especially important in the longer term, CCS. The policy decisions carrying the most weight for the global coal balance will be taken in Beijing and New Delhi – China and India account for almost three-quarters of projected non-OECD coal demand growth (OECD coal use declines).

China makes a major contribution to the increase in primary demand for all fuels: oil (54%), coal (49%), natural gas (27%), nuclear power (57%) and renewables (14%). Its reliance on coal declines from 66% of the country’s primary energy use in 2010 to 51% in 2035. Energy use in India, which recently overtook Russia to become the world’s third-largest energy consumer, more than doubles over the Outlook period. India makes the second-largest contribution to the increase in global demand after China. Chart: IEA, WEO-2012

“If nuclear falls back, what takes its place?” The anticipated role of nuclear power has been scaled back as countries have reviewed policies in the wake of the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Japan and France have recently joined the countries with intentions to reduce their use of nuclear power, while its competitiveness in the United States and Canada is being challenged by relatively cheap natural gas. The report’s projections for growth in installed nuclear capacity are lower than in last year’s Outlook and, while nuclear output still grows in absolute terms (driven by expanded generation in China, Korea, India and Russia), its share in the global electricity mix falls slightly over time.

“A continuing focus on the goal of universal energy access.” Despite progress in the past year, nearly 1.3 billion people remain without access to electricity and 2.6 billion do not have access to clean cooking facilities. Ten countries – four in developing Asia and six in sub-Saharan Africa – account for two-thirds of those people without electricity and just three countries – India, China and Bangladesh – account for more than half of those without clean cooking facilities. The report presents an Energy Development Index (EDI) for 80 countries, to aid policy makers in tracking progress towards providing modern energy access. The EDI is a composite index that measures a country’s energy development at the household and community level.

“Energy is becoming a thirstier resource.” Water needs for energy production are set to grow at twice the rate of energy demand. The report estimates that water withdrawals for energy production in 2010 were 583 billion cubic metres (bcm). Of that, water consumption – the volume withdrawn but not returned to its source – was 66 bcm. The projected rise in water consumption of 85% over the period to 2035 reflects a move towards more water-intensive power generation and expanding output of biofuels.

Such is the barest glimpse of the WEO-2012. There are a number of aspects of the Outlook which deserve more scrutiny with a view to learning energy use and misuse, and this will be expanded upon in the weeks ahead.

Iran’s oil, Europe’s oil imports, many threats, upward prices

leave a comment »

Iranian President Ahmadinejad punches the air in front of a banner of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei during rally to mark the anniversary of Islamic Revolution in Tehran. With its threat to block the Strait of Hormuz, Iran is responding to the United States' decision to impose sanctions on financial institutions that deal with Iran's central bank. Photo: Der Spiegel / Reuters

The concern about the multi-bloc confrontation with Iran (the Islamic Republic of, to use the official name) has continued from December 2011 into January 2012. Oil prices and petroleum products markets have been affected. There have been oft-repeated and serious concerns that there could be some armed confrontation, especially involving Israel and Iran. There has also been speculation that Iran’s government would block the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of all crude oil shipped worldwide passes. Some of these concerns have abated in the last week, but only partially.

Now, Der Spiegel has reported that although the European Union embargo on Iranian oil will only come into effect in six months, the leadership in Tehran wants to act first: Exports to Europe are set to be halted immediately. It is a move which could mean added difficulties for struggling economies in southern Europe. The Iranian government wants to present a bill to parliament this weekend calling for an immediate halt to oil deliveries to Europe. The move, with most reports citing the Iranian news agency Mehr, has come about in response to the EU agreement to impose sanctions against Iran, which were announced earlier this week.

The sanctions banned any new contracts for buying oil from Iran, but allowed existing deals to continue until July in order to give countries time to find other sources. But that process is now at risk after the latest move from Tehran, a step the Iranian government had already threatened. “If this bill is passed, the government will be forced to stop selling oil to Europe before the actual implementation of their sanctions,” said Emad Hosseini, spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s energy commission, reportedly said. The bill is set to become law on Sunday.

An oil tanker is seen docked next to Iraq's vital al-Basra oil terminal, in Persian Gulf waters. Four decades after the 1973 oil shock, Iran and the West are once again embracing oil as a weapon. Tehran is threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz, while the industrialized countries are considering a boycott of Iranian oil. Photo: Der Spiegel / AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili

The EU sanctions allow for oil deliveries from Iran until July 1. Any pre-empting of this timescale by Tehran could prove problematic for countries like Italy, Greece and Spain, who would need to urgently find new suppliers. China, meanwhile, a major importer of Iranian oil, has also criticized the EU sanctions. The Xinhua news agency quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday as saying: “To blindly pressure and impose sanctions on Iran are not constructive approaches.” Many members of the EU are now heavily dependent on Iranian oil. Some 500,000 barrels arrive in Europe every day from Iran, with southern European countries consuming most of it. Greece is the most exposed, receiving a third of all its oil imports from Iran, but Italy too depends on Iran for 13 percent of its oil needs. If this source were to dry up abruptly, the economic conditions in the two struggling countries could become even worse.

Iran holds around 137 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, or nearly 10 percent of the world total, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011. Despite sitting on the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas, Iran’s growing appetite for its own gas, combined with tightening international sanctions that have throttled its fledgling liquefied natural gas (LNG) programme, have made it a net gas importer for most of the last decade. Natural gas accounts for 54 percent of Iran’s total domestic energy consumption, while most of the remainder of energy consumption is attributable to oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Graphic: Der Spiegel / Reuters

The Gloria Center’s Barry Rubin has said that the claim of Israel being about to attack Iran repeatedly appears in the media (see his article, ‘Israel Isn’t Going to Attack Iran and Neither Will the United States’). “Some have criticized Israel for attacking Iran and turning the Middle East into a cauldron of turmoil (not as if the region needs any help in that department) despite the fact that it hasn’t even happened,” he said. “On the surface, of course, there is apparent evidence for such a thesis. Israel has talked about attacking Iran and, objectively, one can make a case for such an operation. Yet any serious consideration of this scenario—based on actual research and real analysis rather than what the uninformed assemble in their own heads—is this: It isn’t going to happen.”

Rubin said that the main leak from the Israeli government, by an ex-intelligence official who hates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been that the Israeli government already decided not to attack Iran. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has publicly denied plans for an imminent attack as have other senior government official. “Israel, like other countries, should be subject to rational analysis. Articles being written by others are being spun as saying Israel is going to attack when that’s not what they are saying.”

So why are Israelis talking about a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Rubin has asked. Because that’s the only way Israel has to pressure Western countries to work harder on the issue, to increase sanction and diplomatic efforts, is his answer.

A satellite image of the Persian Gulf. About a third of all the crude oil shipped worldwide passes through the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman. Photo: Der Spiegel / DPA / NASA / The Visible Earth

Bloomberg provided a round-up of Iran-related oil and prices news – oil declined a second day in New York as rising U.S. crude inventories countered data showing gasoline demand increased last week in the world’s largest oil consumer. Futures fell as much as 0.9 percent after dropping 0.6 percent yesterday. Crude stockpiles probably rose last week as imports rebounded, according to a Bloomberg News survey before an Energy Department report today. U.S. gasoline demand grew for a second week, MasterCard Inc. data showed yesterday. The European Union embargo on Iranian oil supplies will “bear bitter fruit,” Iran’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said this week.

Ria Novosti, the Russian news agtency, quoting a CNN report, said the United States will use all available options to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. “Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal,” Obama said.

The New York Times reported that as the Obama administration and its European allies toughened economic sanctions against Iran on Monday — blocking its access to the world financial system and undermining its critical oil and gas industry — officials on both sides of the Atlantic acknowledge that their last-ditch effort has only a limited chance of persuading Tehran to abandon what the West fears is its pursuit of nuclear weapons. “That leaves open this critical question: And then what?”

Fox Business has reported that the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday that global crude prices could rise as much as 30 percent if Iran halts oil exports as a result of U.S. and European Union sanctions. If Iran halts exports to countries without offsets from other sources it would likely trigger an “initial” oil price jump of 20 to 30 percent, or about $20 to $30 a barrel, the IMF said in its first public comment on a possible Iranian oil supply disruption.

Graphic: Der Spiegel / Reuters

Impacts on refining in Europe was reported by Bloomberg – the European Union’s embargo on Iranian oil threatens to accelerate refinery closures in Europe, the head of Italy’s refiners’ lobby said. “Asian countries not applying the embargo could buy the Iranian oil at a discount and sell cheap refined products back to us,” Piero De Simone, general manager of Unione Petrolifera, said in an interview in Rome. “Italy already risks the closure of five refineries and at a European level we’re talking about 70 possible shut downs.”

Brinksmanship over Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz sparked a rally in oil prices at the end of last year, The National of UAE reported, with sabre-rattling by Iran and the US sending the price of Brent crude futures to highs of US$111.11 per barrel. Saudi Arabia looks set to benefit from sanctions against Iran as the kingdom is one of the few oil producers with capacity to make up any shortfall they will cause. Meanwhile India’s oil minister said Wednesday the energy-hungry nation was continuing to import oil from Iran and was not bound by new sanctions imposed by the European Union.

Reuters provided a factbox about Iran’s oil exports as OPEC’s second largest producer. Iran sells large volumes of oil to China, India, South Korea, Japan and Italy. But Greece, Turkey, South Africa and Sri Lanka rely most heavily on Iranian oil as a percentage of imports. Sri Lanka imported 39,000 bpd in the first half of the year, IEA data shows. It is completely reliant on Iranian oil.

EU figures show imports of Iranian crude were up more than 7% in the third quarter of 2011 compared to the second quarter. The EU says it imported about 700,000 bpd of Iranian crude oil in the third quarter of 2011, compared to about 655,000 bpd in the second quarter.

The European Union agreed on Jan. 23 to ban Iranian oil imports, but the embargo will not be fully implemented until July 1, to avoid harming economies to whom Iran has been a major supplier. The EU move follows new financial sanctions signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 31, which aim to make it difficult for countries to buy Iranian oil in an attempt to discourage Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Iran produces about 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude with another 500,000 bpd of condensate – light hydrocarbon liquids. Iran exports about 2.6 million bpd, of which about 50,000 bpd is refined products, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates. The top 10 buyers of Iranian crude last year were as follows:

An Iranian oil technician makes his way at the oil separator facilities in Azadegan oil field, near Ahvaz, Iran. Photo: Der Spiegel / AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

Country – Imports (bpd) – % Imports
1. China – 543,000 – 10
2. India – 341,000 – 11
3. Japan – 251,000 – 5.9
4. Italy – 204,000 – 13.2
5. South Korea – 239,000 – 7.4
6. Turkey – 217,000 – 30.6
7. Spain – 170,000 – 16.2
8. Greece – 158,000 – 53.1
9. S.Africa – 98,000 – 25
10.France – 75,000 – 6.0

[Figures for EU countries are from the bloc’s Eurostat office and are for the third quarter. Figures for other OECD countries are from the IEA and for the second quarter. Figures for China, India and South Africa are for the first half of 2011 from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).]

How business-as-usual is shutting climate out of the Durban negotiations

leave a comment »

The IPCC released an early report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters in time for Durban. Pity they haven't paid attention. Photo: IPCC

The Durban climate negotiations will plod noisily towards 9 December and end with nothing to show for it all, at this rate. A handful of wealthy countries – including notably the United States – are now seeking to move the goalposts. They want to dismantle the rules for developed countries’ emissions reductions, shift the burden to developing countries, and renege on the Bali Roadmap. In the process, they are trying to end the Kyoto Protocol, and even the Convention, and replace it with a weak, ineffective “pledge and review” system that may take years to negotiate. The Durban climate change negotiations are a clash between those who believe that the world deserves and needs a science- and rules-based multilateral climate system to tackle perhaps the greatest challenge to face humanity, and those who are seeking to dismantle the existing one.

The replacement of George W Bush by Barack Obama as US president in 2008 has seen a change in rhetoric on climate change coming from the White House, but no major policy shift regarding the Kyoto Protocol and the development of a successor agreement. The priority has remained to ensure that nothing is agreed that either impinges on the interests of US corporations or harms the economic and geo-strategic position of US imperialism against its rivals.

Climate models project more frequent hot days throughout the 21st century. In many regions, the time between '20-year' (unusually) warm days will decrease. From the IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Durban 2011, brings together representatives of the world’s governments, international organizations and civil society”. The UNFCCC says the “discussions will seek to advance, in a balanced fashion, the implementation of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as the Bali Action Plan, agreed at COP 13 in 2007, and the Cancun Agreements, reached at COP 16 last December”. The UNFCCC is either misguidedly optimistic, or uses the words “advance” and “balanced” differently from the way we do.

In 2009, CO2 emissions in developing countries grew at 3.3%, primarily due to continued economic growth and increased coal demand, while in developed countries emissions fell sharply by 6.5%, mostly attributable to the decreased use of coal, oil and natural gas as a consequence of the global economic recession and financial crises. Emissions in developed countries in 2009 therewith fell 6.4% below their 1990 level. 1990 is often used as a reference year for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, for example in the 1992 UNFCCC and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This makes sense, as 1990 was the year when UN-steered climate change negotiations started, and when the issue first received prominence on the international political agenda.

All that talk, in the interests of the 99% we hope.

A closer look at the IEA data reveals interesting trends. The five largest CO2 emitters – China, the United States, India, the Russian Federation, and Japan, in the order of emissions – account for about half of the world’s population, emissions, and gross domestic product (GDP); however, the CO2 emissions per unit of GDP as well as per capita are not at all equal across the five. The two largest emitters, China and the United States, together contributed 41% of the world’s emissions in 2009, and both almost have the same share compared to one another. On a per capita level, though, the average American emitted more than three times as much CO2 as the average Chinese citizen.

"Before examining the main trends and implications of the 450 Scenario, it is important to highlight briefly why the scenario is needed. It is because neither the New Policies Scenario, our central scenario, nor the Current Policies Scenario puts us on a future trajectory for greenhouse-gas emissions that is consistent with limiting the increase in global temperature to no more than 2°C, the level climate scientists say is likely to avoid catastrophic climate change. The 450 Scenario illustrates one plausible path to that objective." From International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2011, Chapter 6, Climate change and the 450 Scenario

The Obama administration now insists that there is no pressing need for a post-Kyoto treaty restricting carbon emissions. Jonathan Pershing, US deputy envoy for climate change, declared earlier this week in South Africa: “I’m not sure that the issue of legal form will be resolved here, or needs to be resolved here.” He hailed the voluntary pledges to reduce emissions that were announced at last year’s UN climate change summit in Cancún, Mexico. “To my way of thinking, that’s an enormous way forward in solving the problem,” he said. These remarks underscore Washington’s key role in sabotaging any progress toward a new climate treaty.

This is a step beyond grossly irresponsible. Current levels of warming have already begun triggering major “tipping points” in the Earth’s system – such as Arctic methane releases, Amazon dieback, and the loss of icesheets. 2°C of warming, as proposed by some governments, threatens to tip a cascade of events that will cause warming to spin out of control. We have known since 1986 that warming “beyond 1°C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non?linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage”, the effects of which we’re seeing already.*

But rich countries risk climate anarchy. To address this crisis many countries – particularly developing countries – seek an agreement in Durban based on science, on the existing legally binding and multilateral system reflected in the Climate Convention and its Kyoto Protocol, and on the deal agreed by all countries in the Bali Roadmap.

"Energy-related CO2 emissions in the OECD decline by 50% between 2009 and 2035 in the 450 Scenario, to reach 6 Gt, and their share of global emissions falls from 42% in 2009 to 28% in 2035. CO2 emissions in non-OECD countries fall by a much smaller 9% over the Outlook period, to reach 14.3 Gt in 2035, though this is still a substantial 10.0 Gt of CO2 abatement, relative to the NewPolicies Scenario, in 2035." From International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2011, Chapter 6, Climate change and the 450 Scenario

A report released on Monday by the British-based World Development Movement detailed the testimonies of “insiders” at the Copenhagen and Cancún events. The report stated: “The US said they would deny climate finance to Bolivia and Ecuador because they had objected to the Copenhagen accord proposal. The EU’s Connie Hedegaard had also suggested that the small island-state countries could be ‘our best allies because they need finance’.” One official explained that developing country negotiators who come to be regarded by the major powers as a nuisance “are taken out of delegations for one reason or another, or booted upstairs, or suddenly are transferred, or lose their jobs, as a result of external pressures, usually in the form of some kind of bribe (not necessarily money), or exchange.”

Furthermore, a lucrative trade and speculation in carbon credits, centred in London and Frankfurt, has emerged through the European Emissions Trading Scheme. This mechanism was established and developed within the legal framework of the Kyoto Protocol. The sovereign debt crisis in Europe has already badly affected the carbon trade, with the value of credits plunging in recent weeks. A purely voluntary framework for emissions, as urged by Washington, could further undermine the carbon credit market, in which British and European banks have a significant stake. Amid the manoeuvres of the major powers and the financiers of climate gimmicks, the representatives of the world’s smaller, impoverished states-including some whose very existence is threatened by climate change-are sidelined, bullied, and manipulated at the UN summits.

Rather than honour their obligations, many developed countries have now indicated their clear intention to avoid binding obligations to reduce their climate pollution by killing the Kyoto Protocol and replacing it with a weaker ‘pledge and review’ system. At the same time, they are seeking to retain and expand their favored elements of the Kyoto Protocol (i.e. market mechanisms) into a new agreement, and shift their responsibilities onto developing countries.

A ‘pledge and review’ system would mean that the rich countries most responsible for the problem would only reduce their emissions according to political pressures at home, not according to the increasingly dire scientific realities. There would be no internationally binding commitments, no comparability of efforts among developed countries, and no assurance of adequate efforts. The system of common rules and international compliance in the Kyoto Protocol that give meaning to these commitments would be abandoned. Such an approach would effectively deregulate the climate regime, thereby ensuring business as usual and a deregulated approach that could even be written into international law.

Exposé of false carbon accounting for biofuels

with 4 comments

Cover of a brochure on a 'biorefinery' project in Sweden

Cover of a brochure on a 'biorefinery' project in Sweden

False carbon accounting for biofuels that ignores emissions in landuse change is a major driver of global natural habitat destruction, incurring carbon debts that take decades and centuries to repay; at the same time, the emissions of nitrous oxide from fertilizer use has been greatly underestimated, says a damning new briefing from the Institute of Science in Society (I-SIS), Britain.

A team of thirteen scientists led by Timothy Searchinger at Princeton University, New Jersey, in the United States, pointed to a “far-reaching” flaw in carbon emissions accounting for biofuels in the Kyoto Protocol and in climate legislation. It leaves out CO2 emission from tailpipes and smokestacks when bioenergy is used, and most seriously of all, it does not count emissions from land use change when biomass is grown and harvested, says the I-SIS briefing.

“The team maintained that bioenergy reduces greenhouse emission only if the growth and harvesting of the biomass for energy captures carbon above and beyond what would be sequestered anyway, and offsets the emissions from energy use. This additional carbon may result from land management changes that increase plant uptake or from the use of biomass that would otherwise decompose rapidly.”

Graph from World Energy Outlook 2010 titled 'Ranges of well-to-wheels emission savings relative to gasoline and diesel'.

Graph from World Energy Outlook 2010 titled 'Ranges of well-to-wheels emission savings relative to gasoline and diesel'.

“The worst case is when the bioenergy crops displace forest or grassland, the carbon released from soils and vegetation, plus lost future sequestration generate huge carbon debts against the carbon the crops absorb, which could take decades and hundreds of years to repay.”

The work of Searchinger, referred to by I-SIS, has been mentioned in connection with this false accounting as long as a year ago. For instance, the Industrial Biotechnology and Climate Change blog had noted in 2009 November:

The Science Insider blog last week hosted an interesting debate between Tim Searchinger, Princeton visiting scholar, and John Sheehan, of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, regarding the recent policy proposal in the pages of Science by Searchinger et al. to ‘fix’ the carbon accounting of biomass for bioenergy and biofuels in U.S. legislation and the successor to the Kyoto protocol, by giving credit only to biomass that can be managed in such a way as to sequester additional atmospheric carbon in the soil. As Searchinger puts it in the recent debate, “bioenergy only reduces greenhouse gases if it results from additional plant growth or in some other way uses carbon that would not otherwise be stored.”

Cover of the World Energy Outlook 2010 report, International Energy Agency

Cover of the World Energy Outlook 2010 report, International Energy Agency

Also pertinent is a short section on biofuels and emissions in the World Energy Outlook 2010, which has recently been released by the International Energy Agency. “Biofuels are derived from renewable biomass feedstocks, but biofuels are not emission-free on a life-cycle basis,” says WEO2010. There is keen debate about the level of emissions savings that can be attributed to the use of biofuels and, more generally, to biomass. Greenhouse-gas emissions can occur at any step of the biofuels supply chain. Besides emissions at the combustion stage, greenhouse-gas emissions arise from fossil-energy use in the construction and operation of the biofuels conversion plant. In addition, the cultivation of biomass requires fertilisers, the use of machinery and irrigation, all of which also generate emissions.”

The short section is part of Chapter 12 – titled ‘Outlook for Renewable Energy’ – of the massive tome, and the section on Biofuels emissions is found in pages 372-374. As the WEO must perforce sound upbeat about all forms and sources of energy, it ventures, “If appropriate feedstocks and process conditions are chosen, biofuels can offer significant net greenhouse-gas emissions savings over conventional fossil fuels”. That’s a big “if” there.

“This is particularly the case with sugar cane ethanol, as much less energy is required to convert the biomass to ethanol.” In a laboratory perhaps, but as there are as many ways of converting sugarcane as there are types of cane, it would be difficult to say, wouldn’t it?  “But variations are large and calculating average emissions savings is complex.” So they are, so it is.

After such kerfuffle, the WEO2010 does get down to brass tacks: “Using land for biofuels production that was previously covered with carbon-rich forest or where the soil carbon content is high can release considerable amounts of greenhouse gases, and even lead to a ‘carbon debt’. In the worst cases, this debt could take hundreds or even thousands of years to recover via the savings in emissions by substituting biofuels for fossil fuels.”

And there you have it, in black and white, from the venerable International Energy Agency itself.