Carrots and sticks for sustainable biofuels

06 October 2011 | News story

In an independent report launched by a consortium of industry and non-governmental organizations, IUCN promotes an innovative policy approach to address the risk of indirect land use change through biofuel production. This involves encouraging and rewarding practices that proactively reduce this risk and penalizing producers who take no action.

Indirect land use change is the risk that expanding biofuel production could displace some agricultural production activities onto land with high natural carbon stocks, such as grasslands and forests, leading to significant greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and potentially threatening food security. The report examines practical ways to reduce this risk.

“IUCN supports the development of a policy that encourages and rewards practices that reduce the risk of indirect impacts of biofuel production and penalizes producers who take no action,” says Deviah Aiama, IUCN’s Bioenergy Programme Officer. “These practices include improving crop yields on existing agricultural land, introducing integrated food and fuel cropping systems and the use of wastes and degraded land.”

Many renewable energy technologies are currently being promoted by governments to respond to the urgent need to address climate change. Biofuels represent a small but growing part of today’s transport energy mix. But like any other alternative energy option, unless they’re properly planned and managed, they may have negative effects on nature and people. IUCN aims to make sure that the use of natural resources for the production of biofuels is equitable and ecologically sustainable, while also taking into account the realities faced by biofuel producers on the ground.

The study was published by Ernst & Young and commissioned by a consortium including IUCN, European Renewable Ethanol Association (ePURE), Partners for Euro-African Green Energy (PANGEA), Riverstone, Shell and Neste Oil.

“We are the only environmental organization in the consortium and I think it’s very important that we add some scientific reasoning to the discussion”, says Dr Hans Friederich, IUCN Regional Director for Europe. “This is not just about arguing that biofuels pose environmental risks and therefore we should not produce them. It’s about proactively looking into ways in which we can avoid these risks. This is something that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been part of the consortium.”

The study was launched yesterday at a public event in Brussels. It was followed by a discussion which involved members of the consortium, as well as environment and energy experts.

“We witnessed a strongly polarized debate about biofuels today”, said Prof. Andre Faaij, a Convening Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum, at the launch of the report. “Many non-governmental organizations tend to say ‘we only care about biodiversity; we only care about food security’. But you cannot address these issues by focusing on individual priorities because they’re all interconnected: biodiversity, agriculture, energy, climate change, land governance and so on. Organizations that are trying to find ways to address those multiple objectives are really important. I praise IUCN for taking this position.”

IUCN’s engagement in the consortium is framed by its policy position submitted to the European Commission’s public consultation on indirect land use change and biofuels.

To view the report, click here.

For more information please contact:
Deviah Aiama, IUCN’s Bioenergy Programme Officer, Deviah.Aiama@iucn.org