International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics > Vol 10 > Issue 3-4

Is Forest Bioenergy Carbon Neutral or Worse than Coal? Implications of Carbon Accounting Methods

Madhu Khanna, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois, USA, , Puneet Dwivedi, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, USA, Robert Abt, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University, USA
Suggested Citation
Madhu Khanna, Puneet Dwivedi and Robert Abt (2017), "Is Forest Bioenergy Carbon Neutral or Worse than Coal? Implications of Carbon Accounting Methods", International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics: Vol. 10: No. 3-4, pp 299-346.

Publication Date: 16 Aug 2017
© 2017 M. Khanna, P. Dwivedi and R. Abt
Environmental economics,  Forestry
Stand levellandscape levelmarket effectslife-cycle analysisbiogenic carbon.


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In this article:
1 Introduction 
2 Key Issues Underlying the Accounting for the Carbon Implications of Forest Bioenergy 
3 Approaches for Accounting for Carbon Emissions from Forest Bioenergy 
4 Carbon Payback Periods with Forest Bioenergy 
5 Carbon Impact of Forest Bioenergy: Alternative Metrics 
6 Accounting for Market-based Effects of Forest Bioenergy on Carbon Emissions 
7 EPA's BAF Approach 
8 Conclusion 


The carbon benefits from forest bioenergy have been controversial with some environmental groups and scientists considering it to be even worse than coal while others contend that its use can lead to substantial savings in emissions relative to coal. Studies assessing the GHG implications of forest bioenergy differ in the source of emissions (biogenic or life-cycle) that they are accounting for, the metric used for this accounting, the spatial scale at which these emissions are measured, the time frame over which they are measured, and the counter-factual baseline to which emissions with the use of forest bioenergy are compared. This paper discusses the implications of these underlying differences. It shows that the spatial and temporal scales for assessment, and the extent to which market feedback effects and behavioral responses are incorporated, play a critical role in the widely different assessments obtained by these studies.