Uncertain effectiveness of Miscanthus bioenergy expansion for climate change mitigation explored using land surface, agronomic and integrated assessment models

Emma W. Littleton, Anita Shepherd, Anna B. Harper, Astley F. S. Hastings, Naomi E. Vaughan, Jonathan Doelman, Detlef P. van Vuuren, Timothy M. Lenton

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Abstract

Large-scale bioenergy plays a key role in climate change mitigation scenarios, but its efficacy is uncertain. This study aims to quantify that uncertainty by contrasting the results of three different types of models under the same mitigation scenario (RCP2.6-SSP2), consistent with a 2°C temperature target. This analysis focuses on a single bioenergy feedstock, Miscanthus × giganteus, and contrasts projections for its yields and environmental effects from an integrated assessment model (IMAGE), a land surface and dynamic global vegetation model tailored to Miscanthus bioenergy (JULES) and a bioenergy crop model (MiscanFor). Under the present climate, JULES, IMAGE and MiscanFor capture the observed magnitude and variability in Miscanthus yields across Europe; yet in the tropics JULES and IMAGE predict high yields, whereas MiscanFor predicts widespread drought-related diebacks. 2040–2049 projections show there is a rapid scale up of over 200 Mha bioenergy cropping area in the tropics. Resulting biomass yield ranges from 12 (MiscanFor) to 39 (JULES) Gt dry matter over that decade. Change in soil carbon ranges from +0.7 Pg C (MiscanFor) to −2.8 Pg C (JULES), depending on preceding land cover and soil carbon.2090–99 projections show large-scale biomass energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is projected in Europe. The models agree that <2°C global warming will increase yields in the higher latitudes, but drought stress in the Mediterranean region could produce low yields (MiscanFor), and significant losses of soil carbon (JULES and IMAGE). These results highlight the uncertainty in rapidly scaling-up biomass energy supply, especially in dry tropical climates and in regions where future climate change could result in drier conditions. This has important policy implications—because prominently used scenarios to limit warming to ‘well below 2°C’ (including the one explored here) depend upon its effectiveness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Early online date4 Jan 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Jan 2023

Keywords

  • bioenergy
  • climate change
  • crop modelling
  • DGVM
  • integrated assessment model
  • miscanthus

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