Biofuels key to meeting CO2 emissions targets

21st April 2011

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  • Transport ,
  • Renewable ,
  • Mitigation ,
  • Generation



Fuels from biomass could sustainably power 27% of the world's transport by 2050 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In a new publication examining the future role of biofuels, the IEA states that such fuels will be “one of the key technologies” in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, ultimately providing a fifth of savings in the transport sector.

However, it has also warned that governments must be careful to ensure that the cultivation of biofuel crops has no negative impact on land-use or food prices and technological developments are needed to lower the amount of fossil fuels used in making biofuels.

According to the IEA roadmap, published yesterday (20 April 2011), 100 million hectares of land will need to be dedicated to growing crops to produce biofuels.

When launching the report Bo Diczfalusy, the IEA’s director of sustainable energy policy and technology, admitted: “Competition of biofuel production for land with food, fodder, as well as fibre production needs to be carefully addressed to avoid negative impacts from biofuel expansion on food security.”

In the roadmap, IEA argues that certification standards will be crucial to combating the risks of deforestation and farmers choosing to grow biofuel crops over food crops, with governments needing to “develop internationally agreed sustainability criteria for biofuels and related land-use policies”.

However, the plan has been labelled “ridiculous” by environmental campaigning group Friends of the Earth.

“There is nothing in this report that we haven’t seen before and it’s so far removed from the reality of what’s actually happening with growing biofuels that it’s ridiculous,” said campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran.

The key thing, according to Chandrasekaran is the number of caveats in the report. “If you could grow biofuels without causing indirect land-use change, deforestation and an increase food prices to go up then they would be great, but these issues exist and they are very serious,” she said.

“It seems deceptive to say that 10% of crop land will need to be dedicated to growing biofuels without having any impact on food prices. In reality if there is a demand for biofuels, it is profitable to grow those crops and farmers will grow them instead of food.”

She argues sustainability standards will not solve these problems. “Certification standards for biofuels are very weak and they only examine sustainability at the farm level. You cannot tackle indirect land-use change and impacts on food prices, by tackling on-farm issues.”

The IEA publication follows a week after the UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics published a report into the ethics of biofuels which recommended that EU targets to ensure 10% of transport fuel comes from biofuels should be replaced with more ethically sound policies.

It set out six principles for legislation on biofuels development including ensuring that such fuels are not created at the expense of basic human rights such as access to food and water.

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