Biofuels can be sustainable, say less industrialised nations

| 19th December 2009

Greenpeace say biofuel crops are often grown on land which has been cleared of tropical rainforest, generating high carbon emissions

EU looking at the impact of land use changes on greenhouse gas emissions from moves to increase biofuel production

A group of developing countries has criticised the European Commission for its proposed method of calculating greenhouse gas emissions from biofuel production - fearing it could block out their imports.

The EU has a target for each member state to meet 10 per cent of its transport fuel needs from renewable sources by 2020. This could include biofuels as well as green electricity or hydrogen.

To tackle concerns about the link between biofuels production, deforestation and increased greenhouse gas emissions, the EU also established strict sustainability rules that require biofuels to offer at least 35 per cent carbon emission savings compared to fossil fuels. This figure will rise to 60 per cent in 2018.

It is currently putting together a report on the impact on greenhouse gas emissions of land being converted to growing biofuels.

EU lobbying

In response, a coalition of countries including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Malaysia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone has written to the EC complaining about its proposed methods for calculating emissions.

In specific, the countries argue that the EU's method does not take account of by-products of biofuel production, which it says offset the impact of deforestation.

'In many of our regions, biofuels' greenhouse gas savings thresholds already effectively offset the indirect impacts of land use change, especially when taking into account the generation of by-products, such as protein or energy.'


However, Greenpeace said it 'didn't buy into the argument'.

'These countries have been lobbying heavily on this issue for more than a year now,' said Jerome Frignet, Greenpeace forest campaigner, 'but we can't see how an increase in biofuel consumption can be sustainable.

'The amount of carbon dioxide released is in excess of the CO2 savings made by using biofuel instead of conventional fossil fuels, even if you include the by-products,' he said.

Greenpeace said biofuels from crops such as palm oil was often grown on land which had been cleared of tropical rainforest, generating high carbon emissions.

Frignet said there was also the indirect affect of a switch to biofuel production.

'For example sugarcane production in Brazil is currently not significantly encroaching on the Amazon rainforest but if demand for bioethanol pushes up sugarcane production that will push other types of crops and cattle further into the Amazon and increase levels of deforestation. Whatever you divert to the biofuel sector needs to be replaced,' he said.

Greenpeace say that the EU should focus on forcing through efficiency improvements in the transport sector before considering biofuels.

The EU is reported to be planning to publish its findings in March 2010.

Useful links

Letter sent to the EU Commission
EU Commission section on biofuels

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