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Current Biofuels, not the panacea for climate mitigation, energy security or rural development

A new study commissioned by the OPEC Fund for International Development and prepared by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis is due to be released at a side event at the UN Commission for Sustainable Development on 6th May 2009. A new OFID-IIASA study “Biofuels and Food Security" released on 6th May at a side event at the UN CSD17concludes that the use of first-generation biofuels will increase food insecurity in the world’s poorest countries and is unlikely to deliver any significant greenhouse gas mitigation benefit for at least 30 years.

emissions, serious and irreversible impacts of climate change is eminent. At present transport fuels account for about a fifth of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Liquid biofuels for transport have been widely acclaimed to enable net green house gas savings, improve fuel energy security and foster rural development. Biofuels development polices have become the thrust of publicly announced and time-bound mandates and targets in a number of countries including the United States, European Union, Brazil, China and India.

The report of a new study entitled “Biofuels and Food Security” reviews the global status of biofuels development, policy regimes and support measures and quantifies the agro-ecological potential of first-and second-generation biofuels crops. It presents a comprehensive evaluation of the social, environmental and economic implications of biofuels development on transport fuel security, greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural prices, food security, land use change and sustainable agricultural development.

The main policy relevant research findings of the OFID – IIASA study include the following:

Food Security: At present about a billion people in the developing countries are chronically hungry. Implementing the current biofuels development targets in the developed and developing countries based on current first-generation technologies will put an additional 140 million people at risk of hunger and Africa and South Asia will account for over two-thirds of those most affected.
Energy Security: The world transport fuel consumption is projected to increase by over 60 percent by 2030 and current biofuels targets will result in a relatively small share of about 12 percent in the developed countries and 8 percent in the developing countries in 2030. Liquid biofuels are only one among many sources of renewable energy and their efficiency and societal value needs to be assessed vis-à-vis other current and future energy options in the context of comprehensive national and global energy strategies.

Climate Mitigation: Estimated global greenhouse gas emissions in 2006 amounted to 45 Gt in carbon dioxide equivalent, of which some 62 percent is energy related. The current biofuels development will not result in greenhouse gas savings until after 2030. Even for the period 2000-2050, estimated cumulative gains of 15 - 27 Gt carbon dioxide equivalent from biofuels need to be put in perspective to current annual greenhouse gas emissions of about 6 Gt carbon dioxide equivalent caused by the transport sector.
Rural Development: Current biofuels targets will result in crop and agriculture value added increasing by just 6 percent in the developed and 3 percent in the developing countries in 2030. More than 70 percent of the world poor are found in the rural areas in developing countries and most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and this sector needs to be given the highest development priority, nationally and internationally.
Deforestation and Biodiversity Risks: The 2020 biofuels feedstock production targets may result in deforestation of over 20 million additional hectares with the inherent consequences of substantial carbon emissions and loss of biodiversity. Incentive schemes aiming at avoidance of deforestation need to be negotiated in the context of post-Kyoto agreements on combating climate change.
The Way forward with Biofuels: There is substantial potential for the commercial production of second-generation biofuels feedstocks on about 700 million hectares of currently unprotected grassland and woodlands and of this, some 125 million hectares would be sufficient to meet current biofuels targets to 2030. The development of second generation biofuels offers opportunities to develop innovative and mutually beneficial private sector and local community partnerships that would combine biofuels production for the market with food production by and for the local community. Such partnerships would need to be well designed, monitored and legally binding to minimize social and economic risks of exploitation.
For more than thirty years, debates have raged over feeding cereals to livestock, in a world where over one-sixth of the population live with chronic hunger and debilitating poverty. There is a risk that in thirty years we will still be debating the fallacy of feeding cereals to cars. However, this time the situation is different. If we fail to deal adequately with the interrelated challenges of providing clean energy, ensuring food security and coping with climate change, the entire world’s population will be affected.

by S. C.
06 may 2009, Food & Fun > Nature

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