finding 18.3 : key-message-18-3

Attribution, accounting, and projections of carbon cycle fluxes increase the usefulness of carbon cycle science for decision-making purposes (very high confidence).

This finding is from chapter 18 of Second State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sustained Assessment Report.

Description of evidence base: Carbon cycle fluxes by themselves, both observed and estimated, are useful to understand carbon cycle processes but not particularly useful for decision making. Changes in net emissions associated with changes in human activities in the past, present, and future are particularly useful. Placing emissions in the context of a baseline or business-as-usual scenario, compared to alternative or new management, is necessary. For Key Finding 3, it is the relative change in carbon stocks and emissions associated with activities, along with tracing these activities to their functions in human well-being, that is most needed by decision makers (see Ch. 6: Social Science Perspectives on Carbon). This information often is embedded in science-based models, but to be useful it must be aggregated or synthesized using established carbon accounting protocols.

Carbon accounting of direct and indirect impacts of bioenergy production and consumption has been analyzed (Adler et al., 2007) and included in energy and natural resource economic models (Frank et al., 2011; Mu et al., 2015). While carbon accounting in forestry has a long history of development (Schlamadinger and Marland 1996), there remain issues and debate around the effects of wildfire management on net emissions (Campbell et al., 2012; Hurteau and North 2009) and the use of wood products to offset emissions (Lippke et al., 2011; McKinley et al., 2011). Much of the debate surrounds a relatively new finding that conducting carbon accounting and life cycle analysis at the landscape scale is more representative of the net impact of policies and practices on carbon stocks than doing so at a field or plot scale (Galik and Abt 2012; Johnson 2009). Skog et al. (2014) provides a recent summary of practices that are most effective for reducing net emissions. Developing consistency in accounting and projections across the energy and land sector, along with the tools needed to represent upstream, downstream, and landscape­scale impacts, would be useful for decision making.

New information and remaining uncertainties: Representation of net carbon fluxes will become more accurate with the inclusion of established carbon accounting methods. This is evident in the science publication record that illustrates convergence of net emissions estimates associated with changes in management.

Assessment of confidence based on evidence: Estimating net carbon emissions using established and state-of-the-art carbon accounting methods will increase the usefulness of carbon cycle science results for decision makers. Conducting more research in this area, particularly among researchers involved in carbon accounting and basic carbon cycle science, will be essential to generating science-based findings useful for decision making.

This finding was derived from figure P.2: P.2. Likelihood and Confidence Evaluation

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