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Obama climate change report points to bioenergy for forest health

By Anna Simet | May 07, 2014

The Obama Administration has released a new U.S. National Climate Assessment, which it describes as the most comprehensive scientific climate change assessment ever generated. The report was developed over four years by hundreds of climate scientists and technical experts and took into consideration input from thousands of public and outside organizations, and details current and future impacts of climate change on every region of America, as well as major sectors of the U.S. economy.

A White House summary of the report provides brief synopses of climate change impacts on each region of the U.S. For the Great Plains—Wyoming,  North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas— it says the region “experiences multiple climate and weather hazards, including floods, droughts, severe storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and winter storms. In much of the Great Plains, too little precipitation falls to replace that needed by humans, plants, and animals…These variable conditions already stress communities and cause billions of dollars in damage. Climate change will add to both stress and costs…Rising temperatures lead to increased demand for water and energy and impacts on agricultural practices.”

Transportation, energy, water, agriculture, ecosystem and health effects of increasing temperatures and extreme weather are detailed in the report. On health impacts specifically, it suggests climate change already is and will continue to threaten human health and wellbeing in many ways, including through impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, threats to mental health, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks.”

On climate change’s impact on forests, it emphasizes increased vulnerability to ecosystem changes and tree mortality through fire, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks, and suggests that bioenergy could emerge as a new market for wood, as it could aid in the restoration of forests killed by drought, insects, and fire.

The report acknowledges the potential of utilizing low-value wood and forest thinnings for energy to lower carbon emissions from those of fossil fuels, and points out that the total amount of carbon stored in U.S. forests and wood products equals roughly 25 years’ worth of U.S. heat-trapping gasses at current emission rates.

Biomass Power Association President and CEO Bob Cleaves commended the report’s address to the use of low-value wood for energy and carbon emissions reductions. "The report emphasizes that forest biomass energy could be one component of an overall bioenergy strategy to reduce emissions of carbon from fossil fuel, while also improving water quality, and maintaining lands for timber production as an alternative to other socioeconomic option,” he said.

 "The report highlights the potential for bioenergy, noting that plant-based material contributes about 28 percent of America’s renewable energy supply,” Cleaves added. “Bioenergy has the potential of displacing 30 percent of the nation’s current U.S. petroleum consumption …we look forward to working with the administration to implement bioenergy policies that provide predictable and long-term markets for biomass energy as we do our part to fight climate change."

The 25X25 Alliance— a group of agricultural, forestry, environmental, conservation and other organizations and businesses that are working to advance the goal of securing 25 percent of the nation's energy needs from renewable sources by the year 2025—said the authors of the report understand that renewable energy, including wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, geothermal and hydro, will play a key role in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.  In a statement issued on the assessment, it pointed out that emissions can be avoided through the use of biofuels, providing that regulators leave intact the required blending requirements called for by Congress in the federal renewable fuel standard.

Access the assessment here.