Irrigation of biomass plantations may globally increase water stress more than climate change


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Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is considered an important negative emissions (NEs) technology, but might involve substantial irrigation on biomass plantations. Potential water stress resulting from the additional withdrawals warrants evaluation against the avoided climate change impact. Here we quantitatively assess potential side effects of BECCS with respect to water stress by disentangling the associated drivers (irrigated biomass plantations, climate, land use patterns) using comprehensive global model simulations. By considering a widespread use of irrigated biomass plantations, global warming by the end of the 21st century could be limited to 1.5°C compared to a climate change scenario with 3°C. However, our results suggest that both the global area and population living under severe water stress in the BECCS scenario would double compared to today and even exceed the impact of climate change. Such side effects of achieving substantial NEs would come as an extra pressure in an already water-stressed world and could only be avoided if sustainable water management were implemented globally.

  • Publisher: Nature Communications
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