Uncertainties relating to the assessment of effectiveness of emission reduction measures are considerable. The is a need to develop uniform assessment methods.
28 August 2012
Impact of climate change mitigation measures unclear
Uncertainties relating to the assessment of effectiveness of
emission reduction measures are considerable. In order to
manage these, there is an evident need to develop uniform
assessment methods for ensuring that the assumed
emission reductions are also achieved in practice, says
Finnish scientist Sampo Soimakallio in his doctoral thesis.
He attaches importance to increasing the transparency of
results and assumptions, and to improving the treatment
of uncertainties relating to methods, parameters and
In his thesis Assessing the uncertainties of climate policies and mitigation measures, Soimakallio,
Senior Scientist at VTT, analyzes uncertainties relating to the effects of greenhouse gas reduction
methods and policy measures by examining biofuel production and network electricity
consumption, as well as the differentiation of emission reduction commitments among nations and
groups of nations.
Significant mitigation of climate change is widely supported globally. Achieving the mitigation
targets will require considerable reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.
However, widely differing views, particularly of the large economies such as the EU, the United
States, Japan, China, Brazil and India, on the allocation among nations and groups of nations of
greenhouse gas emission reduction obligations have meant that no breakthrough has been made in
international climate policy.
Lack of strict agreement to lead carbon leak
Nevertheless, climate policy is being implemented actively in many countries, particularly in the
EU, where binding obligations have been set for, among others, reducing emissions and increasing
the use of renewable energy sources, especially biofuels.
At the same time, climatic effects are becoming an increasingly important factor with regard to the
acceptability of various products and services.
The lack of a sufficiently strict and comprehensive agreement on climate increases the risk that
emission reductions, for example in the EU, will lead to increasing emissions in countries that have
not committed themselves to emission reduction.
“Taking this carbon leakage into account when assessing the effectiveness of emission reduction
measures is challenging, but vitally important,” Soimakallio says, for instance.
Emission reductions from biofuels uncertain
The effectiveness of individual emission reduction measures is highly dependent on solutions
directing the markets, such as the implementation of international climate policy.
Soimakallio shows in his study that the emission reductions achieved, for example by increasing the
use of biofuels, are considerably uncertain.
In biofuel production, direct climatic effects are caused, for example, by soil processes relating to
the cultivation and harvesting of raw materials, and by energy, fertilizers and other commodities
needed in the overall production chain.
Indirect climatic effects arise as a consequence of various market mechanisms, when growing
biofuel production, for example, increases competition for raw materials and land, or changes fuel
“These factors are often little known and difficult to define accurately, and therefore highly
susceptible to assumptions. Uncertainties relating to these factors have often been ignored and their
effects consequently underestimated,” Soimakallio says.
For example, the EU’s sustainability criteria for biofuels give a rather biased and optimistic view of
the climatic effects of biofuels.
“There is, in fact, a significant risk that emissions caused by biofuel production are considerably
higher than assumed in the EU criteria, and that the required emission reductions will not be
achieved,” he says.
Emissions caused by biofuel production are most probably lowest when the production utilizes
rapidly decaying bio-based wastes whose processing does not require significant energy input.
Emissions of grid electricity very complex
According to Soimakallio, the uncertainty relating to the effectiveness of climate change mitigation
measures is certainly not an issue related to biofuels alone, although their assessment is often a very
For example, the assessment of emissions generated by the production of electricity purchased from
grid is also very complex.
Different assumptions may lead to very different results and conclusions. This makes it difficult to
carry out reliable comparisons between different products and assessments.
Harmonization of assessment practices of importance
Soimakallio attaches importance to harmonization of practices used in the
assessment of the effectiveness of climate change mitigation measures, to
increasing the transparency of results and assumptions, and to improving the
treatment of uncertainties relating to methods, parameters and modelling.
Without such development work it is difficult for consumers and decision-
makers to obtain reliable information on the actual climatic effects of various
measures, which in turn impedes the steering of society in a genuinely more
It is also particularly important to achieve a comprehensive, binding and
sufficiently strict agreement on climate in order to prevent carbon leakage
arising from market-related factors.
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