Carbon emissions due to deforestation for the production of charcoal used in Brazil’s steel industry

Steel produced using coal generates 7% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions annually. Opportunities exist to substitute this coal with carbon-neutral charcoal sourced from plantation forests to mitigate project-scale emissions and obtain certified emission reduction (CER) credits under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This mitigation strategy has been implemented in Brazil and is one mechanism among many used globally to reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions; however, its potential adverse impacts have been overlooked to date. Here, we report that total CO2 emitted from Brazilian steel production doubled (91 to 182 Mt CO2) and specific emissions increased (3.3 to 5.2 Mt CO2 per Mt steel) between 2000 and 2007, even though the proportion of coal used declined. Infrastructure upgrades and a national plantation shortage increased industry reliance on charcoal sourced from native forests, which emitted up to nine times more CO2 per t of steel than coal. Preventing native forest charcoal use in steel production could have avoided 79% of the CO2 emitted from steel production between 2000 and 2007; however, doing so by increasing plantation charcoal supply is limited by socio-economic costs and risks further indirect deforestation pressures and emissions. Effective climate change mitigation in Brazil’s steel industry must therefore consider the pressures and incentives for all carbon sources generated from steel manufacture to prevent increased national-scale emissions.

Read the full paper: Sonter, Barrett, Moran & Soares-Filho (2015), “Carbon emissions due to deforestation for the production of charcoal used in Brazil’s steel industry”, Nature Climate Change 5: 359–363. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2515