[CDR] From Zero to Hero?: Why Integrated Assessment Modeling of Negative Emissions Technologies Is Hard and How We Can Do Better #emissions

Ron Larson


I found this paper to be  supportive of biochar.  These cites work for the full non-fee article (sort of) comparing biochar to its CDR competitors.  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fclim.2019.00011/full

 I generally approve of their effort, but think their methodology could be improved.  
a.  They lumped biochar with SC = Soil Carbon;  the only paired combination.  I think this negatively influenced biochar’s ratings (for example SC provides no energy).
b.  Numerical values are given to a majority of the 17 SDGs (= Sustainable Development Goals), but no description of how the votes were determined (who, after what sort of dialog, etc).
c.  No recommendation on how decision-makers should use their rankings (which were to range from -2 to +2.)
d.  The rankings were coarse - for the favorables, most often a 0 or 1 (with only “Blue Carbon" getting 7/12 “2’s”;  the SC/biochar combo had 11 “1’s and one “0”; with 5 SDG’s receiving no votes.). Below I add a decimal point, and comment on all 17 SDGs.  I add rationales for my votes - that are more detailed than theirs.  I tried to keep my rationales short and would be glad to expand on any.
e.  To get a better understanding, you’ll need to also go to the supplemental - but I give below everything that is there for biochar (but not the other CDR approaches, where I claim no expertise.). There is little comfort there for our “Non-bio” competitors (especially BECCS).

This is to ask for your comments - after which I will respond to the CDR list.    So here is my version of the “SC/biochar” column of their Supplemental.  Where I refer to two others to the lest, they are “Blue Carbon” and “Afforestation”. (Both of which could have a biochar aspect as well.). My additions are all in bold.  I have no “2’s, but I get close.

 #1.  No Poverty    “Healthy soil can produce more food and goods, they contributing positively to food security and incomes for the world’s poorest people” ‘For SDG 1, No Poverty, reducing costs and dependency on external resources together with the increase in crop productivity would help farmers to be self-sufficient while increasing incomes.”(Smith et al., 2019).             Score: 1.    RWL proposed score: 1.8,  based on biochar being available to so many of the poorest through cooking and heating.   The two others could be raised a little.

#2.  Zero Hunger.         Healthy soil can produce more food and goods, thereby contributing positively to food security and incomes for the world’s poorest people.. food security will benefit from higher yields and higher agro-ecosystem resilience (Smith et al, 2019).         Score: 1.   RWL proposed score: 1.9,  based on roughly tripled NPP in Terra Preta soils (after centuries).  Would raise the other two a little.

#3.  Good Health & Well Being.    “by increasing crop yields, aiding soil remediation and water purification, [soil carbon enhancement] and biochar application to soils can contribute significantly to peoples’ nutritional health”. (Smith et al., 2019).           Score: 1. RWL proposed score: 1.8,   based on #2 rationale.   And scores of 2 & 1 to the left could be raised.

#4.  Quality Education.    No score given in paper.    RWL proposed score: 1.5 , based on the complexity and novelty of analyzing biochar (covers so many topics - both in the social and physical sciences).

#5.  Gender Equality.  No score given.  RWL proposed score: 1.9, based on personal experience in world of third world charcoal-making cook stoves.  Also can be great gender equality benefit in agricultural field work.

#6. Clean Water & Sanitation      Reduced soil erosion. (Smith et al., 2019)              Score: 1.   RWL proposed score: 1.8,  based on dozens of papers every month on both of these two topics.  Also scores of 2 and 0 to left.   Much more here than erosion control.

#7.  Affordable and Clean Energy     “give people access to Affordable and Clean Energy (through energy crops).” (Smith et al., 2019)             Score: 1. RWL proposed score: 1.7,  based on having centuries of out-year benefits compared to BECCS, which also received score of 1 (the only two NETs’s with. positive scores)   Biochar is the only CDR approach I have ever seen quoted as having negative costs (possible with cook stoves) because of what happens for centuries  AFTER biochar is placed in the soil.

#8.   Decent Work and Economic Growth   Through the combination of improved agricultural productivity,  improved water and air quality, and the potential of soil (organisms) to provide medicines, SCS can contribute positively to SDG 3, Good Health and Well-being. This may also help to achieve Decent Work and Economic Growth and Industry” (Smith et al., 2019).               Score: 1.  RWL proposed score: 1.8, based mostly on much greater (full time) job opportunities than the two to left.  Good place also to mention low risk for investments. 

#9.  Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.     Biochar could provide carbon negative energy with value-added co-product. More resilient soil can dampen the effect of climate hazards (Smith et al., 2019)                   Score:1.    RWL proposed score: 1.7, based on blue carbon score of 2.  Also huge number of monthly biochar papers in these three “I”  areas.

#10.  Reduced Inequalities      Not directly impacted by SCS or biochar (Smith et al., 2019), but global carbon market could provide means of financing sustainable agriculture in the developing world      (Author assessment)                  Score: 0.    RWL proposed score: 1.6, based on score of 1 given to Blue carbon.  This argument much like that for SDG 5 on gender equality.   Note the Smith statement relates to SCS - not biochar.  This the only zero given for biochar - which doesn’t fit with the biochar literature.

#11.  Sustainable Cities and Communities      “This may also help to achieve Decent Work and Economic Growth and Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, which in turn might contribute to developing Sustainable Cities and Communities” (Smith et al., 2019)           Score: 1.    RWL proposed score: 1.6, based in part on blue carbon receiving a score of ‘2’.  But also Stockholm is having good success with biochar.  Cities aren’t going to be the main biochar target, but for most cities,  biochar seems the most likely NET.

#12.   Responsible Consumption and Production.     Carbon markets could offer pathway to finance more sustainable agriculture. (Smith et al., 2019).        Score: 1    RWL proposed score: 1.6,  based in part on score of 2 for blue carbon.  But also especially the role of biochar in improving forest health.

#13.   Climate Action.    “All NETs positively contribute to SDG 13: Climate Action by removing CO [sic] from the atmosphere, coinciding with the sequestration potential of each NET.’     No scores provided, but the totals are certainly different and sums and averages could have been given.).  RWL proposed score: 1.7, based roughly on my  16 other SDG scores.   Some biochar activities already receiving funding in this category.  

#14.  Life Below Water.     “SCS can help to prevent erosion and polluted substances from reaching water bodies.” (Smith et al., 2019).    Score: 1.   RWL proposed score: 1.6, based in part on blue carbon score of 2.  Numerous biochar papers on biochar’s capability to retain phosphorous and other pollutants.  Can help with ocean acidification.   Note Smith quote is only on SCS.

#15.   Life on Land      “SCS can help to improve soil health, thereby enhancing potential for biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.” (Smith et al., 2019)      Score: 1.      RWL proposed score: 1.6, based in part on blue Carbon having a “2” score.   But also biochar seems to be the only way to reclaim land that has no possible present use.  Many papers on biochar for mine-land reclamation.  Also many biochar papers on reducing fire hazards due to forest over-growth.

#16.   Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions      Not scored.    RWL proposed score: 1.7,  based in part on the likely control of biochar installations at the local level, if needed at all.  Most risk is to the land owner, who can easily do prior testing.

 #17:    Partnerships for the Goals.     Not scored.   RWL proposed score: 1.6, based on the wide range of environmental and societal problems (other than climate)  being addressed in the several thousand annual biochar papers.   This SDG is a catchall - where biochar fits, even if other NETs do not.

      End of my comments on the Supplemental scoring.  Thanks in advance for any comments. 


Begin forwarded message:

From: Andrew Lockley <andrew.lockley@...>
Subject: [CDR] From Zero to Hero?: Why Integrated Assessment Modeling of Negative Emissions Technologies Is Hard and How We Can Do Better
Date: March 31, 2020 at 1:28:02 PM MDT


From Zero to Hero?: Why Integrated Assessment Modeling of Negative Emissions Technologies Is Hard and How We Can Do Better

  • 1Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States
  • 2Joint Global Change Research Institute, University of Maryland and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, College Park, MD, United States
  • 3Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States
  • 4Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States

Climate change mitigation strategies informed by Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) increasingly rely on major deployments of negative emissions technologies (NETs) to achieve global climate targets. Although NETs can strongly complement emissions mitigation efforts, this dependence on the presumed future ability to deploy NETs at scale raises questions about the structural elements of IAMs that are influencing our understanding of mitigation efforts. Model inter-comparison results underpinning the IPCC's special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C were used to explore the role that current assumptions are having on projections and the way in which emerging technologies, economic factors, innovation, and tradeoffs between negative emissions objectives and UN Sustainable Development Goals might have on future deployment of NETs. Current generation IAM scenarios widely assume we are capable of scaling up NETs over the coming 30 years to achieve negative emissions of the same order of magnitude as current global emissions (tens of gigatons of CO2/year) predominantly relying on highly land intensive NETs. While the technological potential of some of these approaches (e.g., direct air capture) is much greater than for the land-based technologies, these are seldom included in the scenarios. Alternative NETs (e.g., accelerated weathering) are generally excluded because of connections with industrial sectors or earth system processes that are not yet included in many models. In all cases, modeling results suggest that significant NET activity will be conducted in developing regions, raising concerns about tradeoffs with UN Sustainable Development Goals. These findings provide insight into how to improve treatment of NETs in IAMs to better inform international climate policy discussions. We emphasize the need to better understand relative strength and weaknesses of full suite of NETs that can help inform the decision making for policy makers and stakeholders.

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