Est Gorissen Land Use Change
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Est Gorissen Land Use Change

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Why the debate about Land Use Change should not only focus on biofuels

Why the debate about Land Use Change should not only focus on biofuels

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    Est Gorissen Land Use Change Est Gorissen Land Use Change Document Transcript

    • Environ. Sci. Technol. 2010, 44, 4046–4049 2000-2050. One third of this limit will already have beenWhy the Debate about Land Use emitted by the end of 2009. This means that less than a quarterChange Should Not Only Focus on of the available and economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves can be combusted from 2009 to 2050 in order toBiofuels1 have a fair chance of keeping warming below 2 °C. Yet at the same time, the pressure to explore and exploit untapped conventional fossil reserves and unconventional fossil re-LEEN GORISSEN* sources (e.g., gas hydrates, heavy oil) has never been thisFlemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), great (3–6). This is mainly because of a projected increaseMol, Belgium in demand and increasing oil prices, while concerns about the sustainability of alternatives, such as biofuels complicateVEERLE BUYTAERT the transition from fossil resources.VITO, Mol, Belgium, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium These sustainability problems of biofuels relate mostly to the negative direct and indirect effects associated with landDIETER CUYPERS use change (LUC). However, exploration and exploitation ofTOM DAUWE fossil resources can also induce LUC (especially in the caseLUC PELKMANS of unconventional heavy oil resources) and pose direct andVITO, Mol, Belgium indirect threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services when the reserves are located in fragile or biodiverse areas (7, 8). In other words, LUC and associated indirect sustainability problems apply to the fossil energy sector as well as to theExtensive change of the landscape for energy production is bioenergy sector. However, this fact receives hardly anynot limited to farmland alteration. attention in the ongoing LUC debate despite that the bulk of our energy demand (80-90%) in 2020 will still be nurtured by these fossil reserves. OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LABORATORY The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines LUC as a change in the use or management of land and land cover by humans; LUC is thus directly linked to climate change. For example, land cover and LUC may have an impact on the surface albedo, evapotranspiration, sources and sinks of greenhouse gases (GHGs), or other properties of the climate system and thus may have local or global impact (1). At present, the main feedstock for bioenergy is (farmed) biomass, which influences land management/LUC. The coupling of bioenergy demand to LUC considerably impacts the climate benefit of biofuelssa topic that receives a lot of attention from scientists, policy makers, and nongovern- mental organizations (NGOs). This is an example of direct LUC: the effect of direct land conversion from native ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, or peatlands to rural or urban uses, such as agriculture or plantations. Indirect LUC (iLUC) relates to global displacement effects resultingEvidence that links increasing atmospheric CO2 concentra- from an increase in demand for biomass (as food, feed, fiber,tions to global climate change has amplified over the years energy carrier, construction material, etc.) in one part of theand led to a broad scientific consensus that the climate is world that induces a shift in land use elsewhere, usuallychanging fast and will have far-reaching impacts on our planet leading to the conversion of native systems into arable land(1). To reduce the most severe effects, a global warming limit (9).of 2 °C or below has been adopted by more than 100 countries The ongoing discussions focus mainly on GHG emissionsworldwide as the guiding principle for mitigation efforts (2). (due to combustion or decomposing/oxidizing carbon)A recent study by Meinshausen et al. (2) calculated that to induced by LUC because these emissions are considered tohave a reasonable chance of keeping warming below 2 °C, be one of the most important anthropogenic sources. At thethe cumulative CO2 emissions from fossil resources and land same time LUC also directly or indirectly affects the lifeuse change (LUC) cannot exceed 1000 billion tonnes from support mechanisms and services of our natural landscape by influencing ecosystem services and biodiversity. Mostly, 1 LUC impacts on natural ecosystems are negative: conversion Editor’s Note: This manuscript was submitted prior to ES&Tchanging its manuscript parameters for Viewpoints. For the new of natural ecosystems leads to degradation of habitat qualityformat, please read the details at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/ (e.g., pollution, invasive species etc), disturbs the essential10.1021/es903081n. cycles and networks of life (e.g nutrient, O2, CO2 and water4046 9 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY / VOL. 44, NO. 11, 2010 10.1021/es903036u  2010 American Chemical Society Published on Web 05/04/2010
    • cycling), and induces habitat and biodiversity loss (10). On Furthermore, the current debate about LUC by biofuelsthe other hand, ecosystems and biodiversity are also influ- focuses predominantly on the adverse effects of GHGenced by climate change leading to shifts in distribution and emissions. A focus toward GHG emission reductions, as ismigration of organisms. Human-created barriers (such as the case in current legislations (18, 22), is a good and sensibleroads or frequent burning) and the cultural (anthropogenic) start, but we have to keep in mind that this is again alandscape that surround fragile and biodiverse areas deplete simplification. Climate change is one aspect of a largernatural corridors and ecological connectivity between current problem: the deteriorating life support mechanism of ourand future habitats; therefore ecosystem resilience is drasti- planet. LUC affects multiple key aspects of our planet’s life-cally reduced (11, 12). The above spotlights the complexity support mechanism such as the provisioning ecosystemof the subject of LUC, especially because land use relates to services (food, energy, water, medicines and genetic re-many different sectors (energy, agriculture, industry, nature, sources), the regulating ecosystem services (climate control,etc.), time and spatial scales, legislation, politics, and activities water quality, flood protection, carbon and waste sinks), andin our society. Further, the main drivers triggering LUC supporting ecosystem services (soil formation, pollination,originate from our economy and consumer behavior (1–15). nutrient cycling) (23). To come to smart land managementLUC can thus be viewed as a persistent problem, for example, guidelines, all relevant direct and indirect effects of LUCa societal problem of great complexity and magnitude for should be considered in unison across all drivers. Again, thiswhich existing approaches will not suffice (16). Because it is can be exemplified from the energy perspective.becoming more and more clear that land will play a crucial Many of the conventional and unconventional fossilrole in the establishment of genuinely sustainable systems, reserves are located in fragile or biodiverse areas (see Figurefor which simplistic approaches are unlikely to deliver (17), 1). The world’s three largest unconventional oil deposits area pluriform debate addressing all LUC drivers and implica- located in areas of high value for ecosystem integrity andtions is urgently needed. To achieve this, we need to look at biodiversity. These unconventional oil resources are roughlyLUC from a systems perspective. Here, we attempt to describe estimated at 1.7 trillion barrels as oil sands in Canada, 1.5some of the risks in absence of such an integrated perspective. trillion barrels as oil shale in the U.S., and 1.3 trillion barrels At this very moment, the European Commission is as heavy oil in Venezuela (6, 29). The locations in the Coloradoinvestigating ways to address iLUC for the biofuel policy and Orinoco region are home to many threatened oradopted in the Renewable Energy Directive (18). An option endangered species (29, 30). The oil sands in Canada coverunder consideration is the inclusion of an iLUC factor for an area larger than England in the primary boreal forest, anbiofuel GHG calculations (19) to account for emissions from area vital for migratory birds and an important terrestrialiLUC. Attributing LUC consequences to just one of many carbon sink (29). Land management practices associated withdrivers, will however entail unintended side effects which heavy oil exploitation (e.g., surface mining, horizontal wellshould be given due respect. For instance, that the LUC debate drilling, and drainage) have devastating effects on the landonly focuses on biofuels and not on the systemsincluding and the surrounding ecosystems (29, 30). In addition, theall fuel pathways and all biomass applicationssis a simpli- overlap between biodiversity hotspots and oil and gas blocksfication of cause-consequence relationship (13). Simplifica- in the western Amazon is striking. Oil and gas drilling mighttion of complex problems gain popularity because they fit not result in the clearing of large areas of land but willin prevalent worldviews, suggest simple solutions, and may indirectly affect natural ecosystems and biodiversity byserve the interests of critical groups (13). Such simplifications opening up (previously) inaccessible areas, fragmenting themight negatively influence public support and consumer landscape, and pressurizing the water supplies (7). Addition-behavior, which in turn might influence investors and policy ally, oil extraction activities have been linked to increasedmakers. What is more, holding only part of a sector wildlife and wild meat trade, further affecting biodiversity(bioenergy) accountable for the negative consequences of (8). It therefore makes sense to expand our viewpoint ofLUC will disturb a level playing field for the renewable energy promoting the most beneficial biofuels only (from ansector and affect the transition from fossil resources. environmental and socio-economic point of view (31)), toConversely, the nonrenewable (fossil) energy sector will not nonrenewable fuels as well. In this way, we can ensure thatbe affected and will benefit from such an incomplete/biased only those nonrenewable resources that entail the leastapproach because of its decelerating effect on the com- harmful effects on environmental and socio-economicalmercialization of renewable resources. This might result in conditions are eligible for future exploitation.prolonging our dependency on fossil resources and increase Since the window of opportunity for effective long-termthe pressure and incentive to explore and exploit both action is extraordinarily narrow (32), we urgently need toconventional and unconventional fossil reserves. The de- approach the problem of LUC with integration, coherence,velopment of a climate-friendly energy policy framework and systemic thinking. Next to cutting down GHG emissions,requires estimation and regulation of the combined impacts, society needs to prioritize the protection of areas of importantdirect and indirect effects, of all fuel pathways (20). This value for biodiversity, ecosystem resilience, and ecosystemmeans that GHG emissions associated with LUC impacts of services to all kinds of exploitation. Smart land use manage-fossil exploration and exploitation need to be included and ment based on the precautionary principle is a vital part ofaccounted for in order to implement life cycle emission sustaining and maintaining the life support mechanism ofregulations. Good practice therefore would advocate re- our planet. An integrated approach to the problem of LUCsearching these as well, especially in cases where surface asks for a systems level redesign of our socioecological regimemining is involved; for example, oil shale, tar sands, and and economic system (33) in a way that it sustains, insteaddeep sea oil exploration and drilling. The importance of of reduces, the life support mechanism of the planet. Itindirect effects has been illustrated by the recent paper of suggests new institutional and organizational arrangementsLiska and Perrin (2009), who estimated that the protection interlinking a range of topics and policies previously ad-of oil supplies in the Middle East by the US military (measured dressed independently: economy, energy, climate mitigationas indirect military emissions) could raise the GHG intensity and adaptation, agriculture, land use and management,of gasoline from this source by roughly 2-fold. Using natural resources, environment, poverty, development aid,petroleum-based resources as a reference energy system for health, and others (34). On the individual level, it calls for acomparisons with bioenergy consequently necessitates a re-evaluation of our priorities. As Pavan Sukhdev, Themore thorough assessment of the life cycle GHG emissions Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study leader, putfrom fossil resources (20). it so aptly: “The two major challenges for society today are VOL. 44, NO. 11, 2010 / ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY 9 4047
    • FIGURE 1. Overview of the spatial locations of the world’s three largest unconventional oil deposits and also large conventional oiland gas reserves (leased and not yet leased) in the western Amazon in relation to country level biodiversity and number ofoverlapping global biodiversity priorities (5–8, 21, 24–29). Country level biodiversity is represented by an index based on speciesdiversity in the four terrestrial vertebrate classes and vascular plants using national biodiversity indices. The smaller maprepresents high priority global biodiversity areas and zero extinction sites (dots). Both maps are developed by UNEP-WCMC 2008(21). UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMMElearning the nature of value and finding the value of nature.” at the Flemish Institute for Technological Research for the(23) Strategic governance, tactical management, multilateral many discussions and views about this topic.measures, and governmental leadership by example arerequisite to induce the required societal behavioral change Literature Cited(35, 36). Without such changes, economic and individualinterests will dominate the decisions that affect LUC. The (1) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report; IPCC: Geneva, Switzerland, 2007; availablequestion we need to ask ourselves is whether we will be at http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_satisfied with short-term success in a failing world. ipcc_fourth_assessment_report_synthesis_report.htm. (2) Meinshausen, M.; Meinshausen, N.; Hare, W.; Raper, S. C.;All authors are part of the research unit Transition Energy and Frieler, K.; Knutti, R.; Frame, D. J. Greenhouse-gas emissionEnvironment of VITO. Leen Gorissen is a biologist with a Ph.D. in targets for limiting global warming to 2°C. Nature 2009, 458,ecology, evolution, and behaviour. Her research focuses on systemic 1158–1163.sustainability interlinking with land use, bioenergy, ecosystems, (3) U. S. Energy Information Administration. Annual Energy Outlookbiodiversity, climate change, and transition management. Veerle 2009 with Projections to 2030; DOE/EIA-0383; U. S. EnergyBuytaert and Dieter Cuypers are bioscience engineers specialized in Information Administration: Washington, DC, 2009.land and forest management. Veerle investigates the sustainability (4) Unconventional Fossil-Based Fuels. Economic and Environ-of bioenergy systems and Dieter works on the interface of land use, mental Trade-offs; Technical Report TR580; RAND Corporation:forest ecosystems, and climate change. Tom Dauwe is a biologist Santa Monica, CA, 2008; Available at http://www.rand.org/pubs/with a Ph.D. in ecotoxicology. His research focuses on climate change technical_reports/TR580.with an emphasis on the role of deforestation and forest degradation. (5) From Resources to Reserves: Oil and Gas Technologies for theLuc Pelkmans is a mechanical engineer specializing in energy Energy Markets of the Future; International Energy Agency: Paris,technology. His research focus has been on policy impact and 2005; available at http://www.iea.org/publications/free_new_sustainability analysis, mainly regarding biofuels and bioenergy. Luc Desc.asp?PUBS_ID)1568.is project manager of bioenergy at VITO, is a Belgian alternate ExCo (6) Kjarstad, J.; Johnsson, F. Resources and future supply of oil. ¨member of IEA Bioenergy, and Belgian representative on IEA Energy Policy 2009, 37, 441–464.Bioenergy Task 40. Please address correspondence regarding thisarticle to leen.gorissen@vito.be. (7) Finer, M.; Jenkins, C. N.; Pimm, S. L.; Keane, B.; Ross, C. Oil and Gas projects in the Western Amazon: Threats to wilder- ness, biodiversity and indigenous peoples. PLoS One 2008, 3,Acknowledgments e2932.We thank E. Lambin, F. Nevens, L. Blyth, and K. Schoeters (8) Suarez, E.; Morales, M.; Cueva, R.; Utreras Bucheli, V.; Zapata-for valuable comments on earlier drafts and all colleagues Rios, G.; Toral, E.; Torres, J.; Prado, W.; Vargas Ollalla, J. Oil4048 9 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY / VOL. 44, NO. 11, 2010
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