Feasibility of Afforestation and Biomass energy with carbon capture storage for Greenhouse Gas Removal (FAB GGR)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


GGR Consortium: FAB GGR
Future climate change is projected to have overall negative impacts on many aspects of human society (e.g. health, availability of food, rising sea levels) and on natural ecosystems (e.g. loss of biodiversity). In Paris in December 2015, countries agreed to limit the increase in global mean temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C. This poses a phenomenal challenge because most of the allowable 'budget' of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to stay within these temperature targets has already been spent, and global CO2 emissions are still increasing.
Current efforts to limit the negative impacts of climate change focus on reducing the amount of greenhouse gases especially CO2 that we put into our atmosphere, by changing how we generate and use electricity, how we power our transport, and how we heat or cool our homes. However, keeping the increase in global temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial will also require us to actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere on a very large scale. Two ways that scientists and economists suggest we could do this are by (1) planting forests to lock up carbon and (2) using energy crops or waste from the timber and agricultural industries to generate electricity and capture and store underground the CO2 produced when the electricity is made. Both of these approaches require large areas of land on which to grow the energy crops or trees.
This project will investigate how realistic it is to depend on these methods of CO2 removal, and what the consequences would be for the climate, land-use, ecosystems, and wider social and political systems.
We aim to more accurately determine the amount of CO2 these methods are able to remove from the atmosphere for a given amount of effort. Many factors contribute to this calculation, some of which are highly uncertain. For example, how the carbon cycle will respond to a large shift in land use for energy crops or forests. Social factors are also critical. The development of these important technologies depends on understanding social reactions and the right policies being in place to stimulate uptake.
We will use an interdisciplinary mix of quantitative models and qualitative social science methods to address these issues. The models represent relevant aspects of the Earth system from farm to global scales, including the land, soils, plants, and atmosphere. A key aim is to make a comprehensive (termed 'consequential') life cycle assessment of the effect of the chosen technologies on the carbon cycle, working from the scale of supply chains to particular power plants, to the UK national scale, to the whole Earth system.
We aim to go beyond this and also consider the wider effects and trade-offs of the technologies on societies and policy, the climate system, land-use, and ecosystem services. These include impacts on the release of other greenhouse gases, physical effects on the climate system (for example changing the reflectivity of the land surface to sunlight), effects on the water cycle and water quality, on biodiversity, and on the recreational value of landscapes.
Working together with the quantitative analysis we will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the societal, policy and governance-related uncertainties, implications and bottlenecks associated with the real world implementation of the project's two chosen GGR methods. This draws on state-of-the-art social science approaches developed by the research team for the review and analysis of how members of the public and stakeholders perceive and respond to emerging technologies, including those for CO2 removal.
The consortium team will meet every six months to exchange ideas and learn from each other. At the end of the project we will present our most important findings to policy makers so they can better understand how realistic it is to depend on these methods.

Planned Impact

GGR Consortium: FAB GGR
Who and How?
The main beneficiaries outside of the scientific community for our project are:
Policymakers: National and international policymakers will benefit from results of FAB GGR to inform policy on climate change, land-use and innovation. At the UK-level relevant policymakers and advisory groups include BEIS, Defra, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), and the Natural Capital Committee (NCC). The Paris Agreement seeks to hold global mean temperature to well below 2 degrees C and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C. Future emission pathways that are commensurate with these temperature increases rely extensively on the use of carbon dioxide removal. The two most commonly used methods of carbon dioxide removal in these emission pathways are afforestation and Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage, which both involve large-scale changes in land-use. FAB GGR will provide information on the feasibility of the large scale application of these methods. This information is relevant to determine what CO2 emissions pathways are realistic for given climate targets and informs policies for driving innovation (BEIS, CCC). FAB GGR will also provide information on the implications of these methods for land-use and ecosystem services at global and UK scales (Defra, NCC), and the proposal team includes Co-I Bateman who is a member of the NCC.
The IPCC and UNFCCC: FAB GGR will provide key information on the feasibility of large scale afforestation and BECCS as currently used in future emission pathways that limit temperature increase to 1.5-2 degrees C. This will contribute to decision making associated with how to achieve the aspirations of the Paris Agreement on climate change, by improving our understanding of how much carbon dioxide can be removed by these methods at a national and global scale, which will influence the revisions of Nationally Determined Contributions. The IPCC WGIII report identified the importance of assessing not just the technical potential of mitigation and GGR activities but more importantly their real world feasibility. FAB GGR will directly address this question which impacts on the ability to 'overspend' cumulative carbon budgets in the near term by conducting GGR in the longer term. The improvement in understanding presented by FAB GGR will therefore impact directly upon near term policy choices and will make significant contributions to AR6 and AR7.
The media and the public: FAB GGR researchers are active in promoting a good public understanding of climate science and policy, particularly greenhouse gas removal and climate change mitigation. The work of FAB GGR will contribute to the ongoing public discussions about how to address climate change, how much climate change, and impacts that might be expected.
Other scientists across disciplines: FAB GGR research spans a broad range of disciplines. We will engage within disciplinary and at interdisciplinary academic peers through publication in high impact disciplinary and interdisciplinary journals and attendance at key national and international conferences for these communities. Our academic impact will be increased through our extensive national and international networks and be supported by our advisory panel.


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Description A new model of biomass energy crops - Miscanthus - has been developed and added to the 'JULES' land-surface and vegetation model. Simulations of the global planting of these biomass energy crops suggest that they would not achieve as much growth or net carbon dioxide removal as other studies have suggested.

Inter-comparison of different models of Miscanthus growth under the same global scenario show widely different results, increasing uncertainty about the viability of this method of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

A new country-level global model of land-use and the food system has been developed and is being used to explore the controls on future land-use, associated greenhouse gas emissions, and the potential for greenhouse gas removal through afforestation and biomass energy crops with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
Exploitation Route They could inform the next generation of 'integrated assessment model' projections of what it takes to meet climate targets such as limiting warming to well below 2C.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment

Description We held a successful first stakeholder workshop in London attended by individuals from government, industry, NGO and academia who provided insightful feedback and guidance on our research. A second successful stakeholder workshop provided further useful feedback and guidance.
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Citation in IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land, based on Nature Communications paper that evaluated carbon cycle implications of large-scale bioenergy crops to meet the Paris 1.5C climate change target
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in systematic reviews
URL https://www.ipcc.ch/report/srccl/
Description Contribution to the Committee on Climate Change Call for Evidence on Building a zero-carbon economy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-climate-targets-request-for-advice-from-the-committee-...
Title Land-use and climate change for 1.5 and 2.0 degrees Celsuis warming scenarios (JULES land surface model) 
Description This dataset includes six sets of model output from JULES/IMOGEN simulations. Each set includes output from JULES (the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator) run with 34 climate change patterns from 2000-2099. The outputs provide carbon stocks and variables related to the surface energy budget to understand the implications of land-based climate mitigation. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None yet 
URL https://data.gov.uk/dataset/702e434d-0928-493d-b431-272e659390b0/land-use-and-climate-change-for-1-5...
Description PBL 
Organisation Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
Country Netherlands 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Anna Harper now collaborates with two researchers in the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency who work with the IMAGE Integrated Assessment Model and is using outputs from their model and including them in publications.
Collaborator Contribution They contribute land-use data from IMAGE which we use to run JULES.
Impact Publications in review: Relative effectiveness of land-based mitigation strategies in stabilising climate change at 1.5C, in review at Nature Communications.
Start Year 2016
Description Discussion Meeting on Policy Developments Relating to Greenhouse Gas Removal, Westminster, London, 6 June 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The meeting presented the findings from the Greenhouse Gas Removal Instruments and Policies (GRIP) project which is being undertaken by researchers at the universities of Oxford, Manchester and Bristol. Participant discussion focused on (i) the findings from a series of semi-structured interviews that were conducted with expert stakeholders in the GGR space, (ii) public engagement exercises, (iii) some proposed policy pathways, (iv) an exercise involving a more detailed exploration of some of the comments drawn from the semi-structured interviews and (v) a general discussion which will seek to stimulate views as to proposed next steps.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Press Release, media coverage, and guest blog posts following Nature Communications publication 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press releases from the University of Exeter and Nature Communications were picked up by various news outlets. See link below for summary of articles written on the topic. Not included in that list: https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/geral-45135318 As a result of this paper and press releases, Anna Harper was asked to contribute a guest post to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation website (https://www.leonardodicaprio.org/authors/anna-har per-ph-d/) and Carbon Brief (https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-why-beccs- might-not-produce-negative-emissions-after-all)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-05340-z/metrics