Biofuels and environmental impacts scientific analysis and by maclaren1


									           United Nations
Educational, Scientific and        Scientific Committee             United Nations
    Cultural Organization     on Problems of the Environment   Environment Programme

                                                                                       Many countries and companies
                                                                                       are investing heavily in biofuel
                                                                                       production, motivated by potential
                                                                                       benefits in terms of improving energy
                                                                                       security, reducing greenhouse gas
                                                                                       emissions and contributing to rural
                                                                                       Whether biofuels can deliver these
                                                                                       benefits and at what environmental
                                                                                       and social cost is increasingly debated.
                 The biofuels debate
             While biofuels already provide

             The environmental consequences


                                                                     Biofuels are combustible materials

                                                                     Solid fuels:

                                                                     Liquid fuels:

                                                                     Methane gas

    Since 1960, the global population more than doubled,
    and world agricultural area per person decreased two-fold
    Food consumption per person was able to increase due to a dramatic enhancement in crop
    productivity per area. Growing population and improved diets are placing ever greater demands
    on land for food production so that competition and conflict with biofuel production using current
    methods can only increase in a world where more than 900 million are already underfed.

                                   220                                                              Population
                                   200                                                              Animal product
                                   180                                                              per person
       Percent change since 1960

                                   160                                                              TOTAL FOOD
                                   140                                                              per person

                                   120                                                              Vegetal product
                                   100                                                              per person

                                    80                                                              Global agricultural
                                                                                                    land area
                                                                                                    Agricultural area,
                                    40                                                              ha/person
                                      1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005

2                                                                         Data from FAO and UN population statistics online. Figure
     Global trends
Governmental energy                                                     Proportion of global production
                                                                        of liquid biofuels in 2007

                                                                            EU 15%            Brazil 32%
                                                                            Mostly            Ethanol from sugar cane.
                                                                            biodiesel         Brazil used 60% of its
                                                                            from              sugar cane to produce
Global production
                                                                            rapeseed.         ethanol for 15% of
                                                                                              its liquid fuel use.

Global production
                                                                          USA 43%
                                                                          Mostly ethanol                10%
                                                                          from corn. The United
                                                                          States used 26% of its
Production targets                                                        corn harvest to produce
                                                                          ethanol, which contributed
                                                                          just over 1% of its use of liquid
                                                                          fuels (transportation fuels and
                                                                          other uses of liquid fuels).

Meeting these goals                                                   In light

  Global trends in cereal yield by region (1961-2005)
  In contrast to the global pattern, yields of food crops in Africa have been stagnant, largely as
  a consequence of limited infrastructure and investment. Investments in agriculture in Africa could,
  if managed properly, help increase production of biofuels as well as food.

                                                                                              All developing
                           2500                                                               South Asia
         Yield (Kg ha-1)



                           1000                                                               Sub-Saharan

                              1961 1965 1969 1973 1977 1981 1985 1989 1993 1997 2001 2005

from Hazell and Wood (2008). Adapted from FAOSTAT (2006).                  3
                                                                                            Biofuels and the environment

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions                                                                                 Biodiversity
from biofuels                                                                                                  is greatly

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
If biofuel crops
                                                   Freshwater                                                                                                                                                                                  a crop that is
                                                   is increasingly                                                                                                                                                                             particularly leaky
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               of nutrients, because of
                                                                                                                                                                Oil palms
                                                                                                               There are opportunities                                                                                                         a shallow rooting system and
                                                                                                                                                                are                                                                            short time period of active nutrient uptake.
Diverting land                                                                                                                                                  an excellent
                                                                                                                                                                source of oil                                                                  In regions where soils have artificial drainage,
                                                                                                                                                                for biodiesel when grown                                                       the nitrogen loss associated with growing corn
                                                                                                                                                                on previously degraded                                                         can be quite high.
                                                                                                               Large areas                                                                                                                     This is the single largest source of nutrient
                                                   The processing of biofuels                                                                                   On the other hand, palm                                                        pollution leading to the 'dead zone', or area
                                                                                                                                                                plantations established                                                        of low-oxygen water in the plume of the
                                                                                                                                                                on newly cleared tropical forests                                              Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico.
Releases of nitrous oxide                                                                                                                                       result in loss of biodiversity
                                                                                                                                                                from one of the world’s                                                        The increase in corn production to support
                                                                                                                                                                hot spots of diversity and huge                                                ethanol goals in the United States is predicted
                                                                                                                                                                emissions of greenhouse gases,                                                 to increase nitrogen inputs to the Mississippi
                                                                                                                                                                especially when grown on peat soils.                                           River by 37%. This works against the national
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               goal of reducing nitrogen
                                                   Water pollution                                                                                                                                                                             inputs by at least 40%
                                                   can result                                                  There is substantial uncertainty                                                                                                to mitigate the
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               'dead zone'.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: R.W. Howarth
Biofuel crops offer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Mixed with
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the tan sediment
                                                                                                             Air pollution
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        are blue and green swirls
                                                                                                             from the burning                                                                                           that indicate a bloom
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        of phytoplankton.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Such blooms
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        can deplete
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        life-giving oxygen
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        from the waters,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        creating massive
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        dead zones.
Using wastes

                                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: Luiz Martinelli

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo: NASA

 In Brazil, ethanol production has important impacts on air pollution, particularly from the burning of sugar cane before manual harvest. Acid rain is occurring as a result.

                                 Improving biofuels systems
Many of the adverse effects                                                                                      ■

In general, biofuels made from
organic waste

                                                                                                                     Oil from jatropha grown
                                                                                                                     on degraded lands in Mali
Different types of feed-stocks                                                                                       powers generators for electricity for cell
                                                                                                                     phone microwave towers and provides local
                                                                                                                     jobs with low environmental impact.
                                                                                                                     This and other expanded biofuel production
                                                                                                                     can be an important driver of rural
                                                                                                                     development. Policies should be crafted
                                                                                                                     to ensure equity in income distribution along
                                                                                                                     the production chain.
 Goals of increased
                                          Concerns, issues and qualifiers
 production of liquid biofuels

 Increased energy independence            The capacity to produce biofuels in an environmentally sustainable
 and security, with biofuels serving      manner is limited. Solid biofuels have a greater potential than
 as an alternative to oil and a local     liquid biofuels as a significant energy source and currently
 renewable energy resource.               contribute over 10% of global energy. Global production of liquid
                                          biofuels tripled between 2000 and 2007, yet in 2007:
                                          ■ Liquid biofuels supplied only 0.4% of total energy
                                          ■ Biofuels contributed to 1.8% of liquid fuels used for                    Fuel use in production
                                                transportation.                                                      and consumption needs to become
                                                                                                                     drastically more efficient
 Reduced emissions of carbon              Two issues make the overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions          Reducing the fuel consumption of car
 dioxide and other greenhouse gases       far less favorable:                                                        fleets may be much more sustainable than
 and mitigation of global warming.        ■ Rapid increases in the rate of production create pressures               increasing the supply with biofuels.
 When production is steady over                 for creation of more cropland, in a world where cropland is          Reducing the fuel consumption of the German
 time, the use of liquid biofuels               limited and many people are already underfed. Deforestation          car fleet in the medium term by 30%
 reduces net carbon dioxide                     and other land conversions can result, causing large increases
                                                                                                                     (130 g CO2 equivalents per km) would result
 emissions compared to burning                  in carbon dioxide emissions.
 fossil fuels, particularly for ethanol   ■ Biofuel production can release large amounts of another
                                                                                                                     in about 30 Mt GHG savings, much more
 made from sugar cane.                          greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. This can offset the positive          than the maximum effect of the envisaged
                                                advantages from reduced carbon dioxide fluxes from biofuels.          ambitious biofuel blending targets.

 Enhanced rural development,              While marginal and degraded lands provide an opportunity for               Meeting these targets would require
 particularly in developing countries     biofuel development, and biofuel production can serve as an engine         significant imports and induce land use
 in the tropics, and especially           of rural growth, some major concerns exist:                                changes in the tropics, particularly for
 where biofuels can help accelerate       ■ The total area of suitable land remains highly uncertain,
                                                                                                                     biodiesel, which limit their climate change
 agricultural development for food              especially given constrained supplies of irrigation water.
                                                                                                                     mitigation potential.
 or where biofuels can be grown on        ■ Competition between food and fuel can occur.
 marginal or degraded lands.              ■ A potential exists for domination by large, heavily-capitalized
                                                players, to the detriment of rural populations.

                                                                            way forward ... way forward ... way forward ... way forward ... way forward ... way forward ...

Way rd
Way ayard
  y forward
           Targets for liquid biofuels production
      should be reconsidered in light of the potential
      adverse environmental consequences, potential
                                                                                       ■    Direct use of biomass for electric power and heat generation
                                                                                       can be more efficient than conversion to liquid biofuels for transport.
                                                                                       These alternatives may be the best use of biomass for energy,
      displacement or competition with food crops,                                     particularly as electric vehicles and vehicles powered by hydrogen
      and difficulty of meeting these targets without                                   fuel cells become commercially viable in future decades.
      large-scale land conversion.
                                                                                       ■    Policy instruments are needed to help adjust the overall
      ■    Sustainable energy and resource                                             demand for non-food biomass at levels which can be supplied by
      management should aim for significant                                            sustainable production such as:
      reductions on the demand side, with greater                                      ❚ effective incentives to significantly increase efficient use of
      conservation and improved efficiency. Biofuels                                      biomass and mineral resources;
      development should be embedded in larger                                         ❚ incentives to reduce fuel consumption for transportation.
      Resource Efficiency and Renewable Energy
      Strategies and considered in the context of                                      ■    Biofuels based on low input cultivation of non-food crops
      integrated spatial planning.                                                     offer promise in developing countries as a source of energy, in part
                                                                                       because energy use is often very low at present. Biofuel markets
      ■    Comprehensive land use guidelines are                                       can serve as an opportunity to trigger additional investments that
      needed that target biofuel production on                                         could lead to increased production of food as well as biofuel crops
      marginal and degraded lands, and preserve                                        by small scale farmers. In parallel, policies need to be crafted
      areas for agriculture, forestry, settlements/                                    to ensure equity in income distribution along
      infrastructure and nature conservation on the                                    the production chain.
      regional, national and international levels to                                                                                                 The designations employed
                                                                                                                                                     and the presentation of mate-
      avoid unintended consequences.                                                   ■   Further research on the use of indigenous                 rial throughout this publication
                                                                                                                                                     do not imply the expression of
                                                                                       crops, including non-food crops, should                       any opinion whatsoever on the
      ■    Options exist for improving technologies                                    be encouraged in the context of biofuel                       part of UNESCO, SCOPE and
                                                                                                                                                     UNEP concerning the legal sta-
      in terms of feed-stocks and conversion                                           production.                                                   tus of any country, territory, city
      technologies as well as more efficient use of                                                                                                   or area or of its authorities, or
                                                                                                                                                     concerning the delimitation of
      biomass. Policie tools to enhance performance                                         Biofuel policies will be                                 its frontiers or boundaries.

      of biofuel production comprise:                                                       most successful if integrated                            UNESCO-SCOPE-UNEP
      ❚ guidelines for sustainable biofuel                                                  in comprehensive plans for climate,                      Policy Briefs Series.
                                                                                                                                                     Biofuels and environmental
        production and tools to monitor their                                               biodiversity protection, food                            impacts. Scientific
                                                                                                                                                     analysis and implications
        implementation;                                                                     and energy security.                                     for sustainability
      ❚ product-oriented certification of biofuels.                                                                                                   June 2009.
                                                                                                                                                     UNESCO-SCOPE-UNEP, Paris.
                                                                                            Plans should address
                                                                                            conservation and efficiency                              R. W. Howarth and
                                                                                            as well as new sources of energy.                        S. Bringezu on behalf
                                                                                                                                                     of a group of 75 scientists
                                                                                                                                                     from 21 countries.

                                                                                                                                                     Editor: A. Persic
                                                                                                                                                     Design: I. Fabbri

                                                                                                                                                       Contacts :
This policy brief is based on the report from a workshop held in Gummersbach,                                                                        ■ SCOPE Secretariat
Germany, by the International SCOPE Biofuels Rapid Assessment Project                                                                                  5 rue Auguste Vacquerie
                                                                                                                                                       75116 Paris, France
in September 2008.                                                                                                                           
The full report is available at:                                                                                     ■ UNESCO, SC/EES
                                                                                                                                                       1 rue Miollis
                                                                                                                                                       75015 Paris, France
International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management:                                                                                             ■ UNEP                                                                                                                       P.O. Box 30552
                                                                                                                                                       00100 Nairobi, Kenya
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO):                                                                    
Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE):                                                                                          Printed in June 2009
                                                                                                                                                     by UNESCO
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP):                                                                                     Printed in France

                                                                                                                                                       ISSN 1998-0477


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