Bioenergy Plantations Could Fight Climate Change! Know How.

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In the effort to keep the planet from reaching dangerous temperatures, a hybrid approach called BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage) has a seductive appeal. Crops suck carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, power plants burn the biomass to generate electricity, and the emissions are captured in a smokestack and pumped underground for long-term storage. Energy is generated even as CO2 is removed: an irresistible win-win. But this week, the United Nations's climate panel sounded a warning about creating vast bioenergy plantations, which could jeopardize food production, water supplies, and land rights for poor farmers.

"Our report is kind of a reality check," says Lennart Olsson of the Center for Sustainability Studies at Lund University in Sweden, a lead author of a special report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Geneva, Switzerland. Instead of betting big on bioenergy, governments need to focus on the hard medicine of cutting fossil fuel use, he says. "There is no shortcut to climate change mitigation."

The IPCC report surveys the interactions of climate, forests, and farmlands, exploring, for example, the impact of more frequent droughts on agriculture. It confirms that stopping deforestation and preserving the carbon stored in soil are key steps to fighting climate change. But because those measures alone won't be enough to pull the planet's climate back into the safety zone, it also examines the feasibility of BECCS, a "negative emissions" strategy that so far has only been tested at a few power plants.

In an earlier special report in October 2018, IPCC called for holding the rise in global average temperatures to no more than 1.5

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