A review of biomass carbon accounting methods and implications

Over many years, a body of research has developed examining the greenhouse gas and carbon attributes of forests and forest products. This research has demonstrated that forest-based products, particularly building materials, and forest biomass-based energy provide long-term greenhouse gas mitigation benefits when they substitute for more greenhouse gas-intensive alternatives. Recently, however, the benefits of forests and forest products have been disputed, with the debate frequently centered on the question of whether forest biomass is “carbon neutral.” In reality, this debate hinges on the methods used to characterize the carbon and greenhouse gas impacts associated with using (or not using) forest biomass.

NCASI is distributing Technical Bulletin No. 1015, A Review of Biomass Carbon Accounting Methods and Implications. This report explores the carbon accounting questions at the heart of the debate about the benefits of using forest-derived biomass. The discussion is complicated by differing definitions of the term “carbon neutrality” and different options that may be used to characterize carbon neutrality. There are many carbon accounting methods in use and they are useful for different purposes. The most common applications for carbon accounting are greenhouse gas inventories, product carbon footprints, company carbon footprints, and policy studies. This report makes it clear that it is important to use carbon accounting methods that are appropriate for the issue being examined. The report also examines how the choices made in applying these methods can affect the results of studies of forest carbon and forest products.


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