Exploring temporal aspects of climate-change effects due to bioenergy

Cooper, S.J.G.; Green, R.; Hattam. L.; Röder, M.; Welfle, A.; McManus, M.

The greenhouse gas emissions associated with bioenergy are often temporally dispersed and can be a mixture of long-term forcers (such as carbon dioxide) and short-term forcers (such as methane). These factors affect the timing and magnitude of climate-change impacts associated with bioenergy in ways that cannot be clearly communicated with a single metric. This is critical as key comparisons that determine incentives and policy for bioenergy are based upon climate-change impacts expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent calculated with GWP100.

This paper explores these issues further and presents a spreadsheet tool to facilitate quick assessment of these temporal effects. The potential effect of (i) a mix of GHGs and (ii) emissions that change with time are illustrated through two case studies.

In case study 1, variations in the mix of greenhouse gases mean that apparently similar impacts after 100-years, mask radically different impacts before then. In case study 2, variations in the timing of emissions cause their climate-change impacts (integrated radiative-forcing and temperature change) to differ from the impacts that an emissions-balance would suggest. The effect of taking alternative approaches to considering “CO2-equivalence” are also assessed.

In both cases, a single metric for climate-change effects was found to be wanting. A simple tool has been produced to help practitioners evaluate whether this is the case for any given system. If complex dynamics are apparent, it is recommended that additional metrics, more detailed inventory, or full time-series impact results are used in order to accurately communicate these climate-change effects.

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