Sensitivity of Carbon Emission Estimates from Indirect Land-Use Change

Jerome Dumortier, Dermot J. Hayes, Miguel Carriquiry, Fengxia Dong, Xiaodong Du, Amani Elobeid, Jacinto F. Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz
July 2009  [09-WP 493]

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Dumortier, J., D.J. Hayes, M. Carriquiry, F. Dong, X. Du, A. Elobeid, J.F. Fabiosa, and S. Tokgoz. 2009. "Sensitivity of Carbon Emission Estimates from Indirect Land-Use Change." Working paper 09-WP 493. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University.


We analyze the sensitivity of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from land-use change to modifications in assumptions concerning crop area, yield, and deforestation. For this purpose, we run a modified version of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) Agricultural Outlook Model, which was used previously to assess the impacts of energy price increases and biofuel policy changes on land conversion. To calculate the GHG implications of agricultural activity, we use GreenAgSiM, a model developed to evaluate emissions from land conversion and agricultural production. Both models are applied to scenarios that lead to higher US ethanol production. The results are contrasted with the findings of Searchinger et al., and we explain the role of model assumptions to elucidate the differences. We find that the payback period of corn ethanol's carbon debt is sensitive to assumptions concerning land conversion and yield growth and can range from 31 to 180 years.

Keywords: biofuel, crop yield, greenhouse gas emissions, indirect land-use change.