Obituary: Dr Peter Read

We are saddened to learn of the recent death of Dr Peter Read. He was a proponent of the use of bioenergy for climate change mitigation, and he gave one of the presentations at Feasta’s 2008 Will Howard Memorial Lecture, “Climate Change: First the Bad News, Then The Good”.

Obituary: Dr Peter Read

Proponent of bioenergy for climate mitigation; died 24th Nov 2009

Peter Read’s tireless campaign to inject a new dimension into climate change mitigation through the enhanced management of photosynthesis on a global scale, came to a sad end on the 24th November 2009. He died at a meeting in Brussels assessing bioenergy options in Africa, not long after making a presentation on linking bioenergy with biological carbon sequestration. Peter Read was amongst the first to publicise the idea of achieving ‘negative emissions’ by combining bioenergy production with carbon capture and storage. He presented these ideas in February 2005 at the high profile ‘Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change’ conference in Exeter. Since then, the idea has won widespread support in principle. It has been incorporated into the EU’s ‘Flagship Programme’ for carbon capture and sequestration. The IPCC fifth assessment process now includes a negative emissions scenario based on the use of biochar.

Peter’s quest, though sometimes isolated, was always marked with his infectious laugh and absolute commitment to science and the environment. Based at Massey University in New Zealand after moving there in 1980 from the UK, he travelled ceaselessly sharing his ideas of how the world could move beyond policies aimed at simply capping fossil fuel emissions to ones that promote ‘negative emission pathways’ and enhanced carbon stocks in vegetation and soils. Using ‘abrupt climate change’ theories to inject the needed urgency and motivation for the immense scale of the land management options he promoted, he developed a set of global scenarios to demonstrate both the necessity and modality of this approach. Whilst much of what he proposed remains highly contentious, Peter may yet be proved to have been ahead his time.

Papers on his website include “Biosphere Carbon Stock Management”, an Editorial Essay. Climatic Change, 87/3-4, 305-320. (Published electronically 29.x.07. DOI 10.1007/s10584-007-9356-y). This essay was published in response to an invitation from Climatic Change Editor Steve Schneider. It presents a strategy for using negative emissions systems, that by linking bioenergy to carbon storage, could return CO2 levels to pre-industrial by mid century if adopted ambitiously. See here for a list of his papers with links.

This obituary was originally published by the Climate Change Info Mailing List.


Peter was one of the presenters of the Will Howard Memorial Lecture which Feasta organised in April 2008, entitled “Climate Change: First the Bad News, then the Good”. You can read more about this presentation and view a video of Peter’s talk here.

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