The greenhouse gas emissions from market-mediated land use change are uncertain, but potentially much greater than previously estimated

Document Date: 
Tue, 2010-09-28
Number of pages: 
7

The life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions induced by increased biofuel consumption are highly uncertain: individual estimates vary from each other and each has a wide intrinsic error band. Using a reduced-form model, we estimated that the bounding range for emissions from indirect land-use change (ILUC) from US corn ethanol expansion was 10 to 340 g CO2 MJ-1. Considering various probability distributions to model parameters, the broadest 95% central interval, i.e., between the 2.5 and 97.5%ile values, ranged from 21 to 142 g CO2e MJ-1. ILUC emissions from US corn ethanol expansion thus range from small, but not negligible, to several times greater than the life cycle emissions of gasoline. The ILUC emissions estimates of 30 g CO2 MJ-1 for the California Air Resources Board
and 34 g CO2e MJ-1 by USEPA (for 2022) are at the low end of the plausible range. The lack of data and understanding (epistemic uncertainty) prevents convergence of judgment on a central value for ILUC emissions. The complexity of the global system being modeled suggests that this range is unlikely to narrow substantially in the near future. Fuel policies that require narrow bounds around point estimates of life cycle GHG emissions are thus incompatible with current and anticipated modeling capabilities. Alternative policies that address the risks associated with uncertainty are more likely to achieve GHG reductions.

Lead Author: 
Additional Authors: 
Additional Authors (Non-TSRC): 
Andrew D. Jones
Margaret S. Torn
Holly K. Gibbs
Suggested Citation: 

Plevin, Richard, Michael O'Hare, Andrew Jones, Margaret Tom, and Holly Gibbs, (2010). "The greenhouse gas emissions from market-mediated land use change are uncertain, but potentially much greater than previously estimated."

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