Linearity between temperature peak and bioenergy CO2 emission rates


Many future energy and emission scenarios envisage an increase of bioenergy in the global primary energy mix1,2,3,4. In most climate impact assessment models and policies, bioenergy systems are assumed to be carbon neutral, thus ignoring the time lag between CO2 emissions from biomass combustion and CO2 uptake by vegetation5. Here, we show that the temperature peak caused by CO2 emissions from bioenergy is proportional to the maximum rate at which emissions occur and is almost insensitive to cumulative emissions. Whereas the carbon–climate response (CCR; ref. 6) to fossil fuel emissions is approximately constant, the CCR to bioenergy emissions depends on time, biomass turnover times, and emission scenarios. The linearity between temperature peak and bioenergy CO2 emission rates resembles the characteristic of the temperature response to short-lived climate forcers. As for the latter7,8,9, the timing of CO2 emissions from bioenergy matters. Under the international agreement to limit global warming to 2 °C by 21003, early emissions from bioenergy thus have smaller contributions on the targeted temperature than emissions postponed later into the future, especially when bioenergy is sourced from biomass with medium (50–60 years) or long turnover times (100 years).

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Figure 1: Carbon–climate response (CCR) as a function of time under a 1% per year increase in emission rates.
Figure 2: Carbon–climate response (CCR, ensemble mean only) in °C per TtonC as a function of time and emission growth rate.
Figure 3: Sensitivity of Δ Tpeak from idealized emission trajectories as a function of Σ E orEmax.


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F.C., R.M.B. and A.H.S. acknowledge support from the projects CENBIO, CLIMPOL and ECOSERVICE, funded by the Norwegian Research Council. P.C. acknowledges support from the ERC-SYG grant P-IMBALANCE.

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F.C. and T.G. conducted the preliminary design of the study and the experiments; all authors discussed the specific goal and scope of the analysis and the presentation of the results; T.G. computed the carbon-cycle and climate responses; F.C. elaborated the data and ran the simulations under various emission scenarios; F.C. wrote the paper with contributions from all the authors.

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Correspondence to Francesco Cherubini.

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Cherubini, F., Gasser, T., Bright, R. et al. Linearity between temperature peak and bioenergy CO2 emission rates. Nature Clim Change 4, 983–987 (2014).

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