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Making two parallel land-use sector debates meet: Carbon leakage and indirect land-use change

Journal article
Authors Madelene Ostwald
Sabine Henders
Published in Land Use Policy
Volume 36
Pages 533-542
ISSN 0264-8377
Publication year 2014
Published at Gothenburg Centre for Globalization and Development (GCGD)
Centre for Environment and Sustainability
Pages 533-542
Language en
Keywords Carbon-accounting system, Climate policy, Greenhouse-gas emissions, Forest conservation, Land-use competition
Subject categories Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use, Environmental Sciences


Several land-based policy options are discussed within the current quest for feasible climate change mit-igation options, among them the creation and conservation of forest carbon sinks through mechanismssuch as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation also called REDD+ and the substi-tution of fossil fuels through biofuels, as legislated in the EU Renewable Energy Directive. While those twopolicy processes face several methodological challenges, there is one issue that both processes encounter:the displacement of land use and the related emissions, which is referred to as carbon leakage in the con-text of emissions accounting, and indirect land-use change also called ILUC within the bioenergy realm.The debates surrounding carbon leakage and indirect land-use change issues run in parallel but are ratherisolated from each other, without much interaction. This paper analyzes the similarities and differences aswell as common challenges within these parallel debates by the use of peer-reviewed articles and reports,with a focus on approaches to address and methods to quantify emissions at national and internationalscale. The aim is to assess the potential to use synergies and learn from the two debates to optimizeclimate benefits. The results show that the similarities are many, while the differences between carbonleakage and ILUC are found in the actual commodity at stake and to some degree in the policy forumin which the debate is taken. The geographical scale, actors and parties involved also play a role. Bothprocesses operate under the same theoretical assumption and face the same problem of lacking methodsto quantify the emissions caused by international displacement. The approach to international displace-ment is one of the main differences; while US and EU biofuel policymakers acknowledge uncertainties inILUC accounting but strive to reduce them, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Changeexcludes accounting for international carbon leakage. Potential explanations behind these differences liein the liability issue and the underlying accounting principles of producer responsibility for carbon leak-age and consumer responsibility for ILUC. This is also reflected on the level of lobby activities, where ILUChas reached greater public and policy interest than carbon leakage. Finally, a possible way forward forinternational leakage accounting in future climate treaties could be the adoption of accounting methodstaking a consumer perspective, to be used alongside the existing set-up, which could improve climateintegrity of land-based policies.

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