Don’t let invasive biofuel crops attack your country, warn top scientists

20 May 2008 | International news release

Bonn, Germany, May 20, 2008 (IUCN/GISP) – Countries should avoid planting crops for biofuels that stand a high risk of becoming invasive species, according to a report released today. 

The Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP) has identified all the crops currently being used or considered for biofuel production and ranked them according to the risk they pose of becoming invasive species. 

The report, Biofuel Crops and Non Native Species: Mitigating the risks of Invasion, calls on countries to carry out risk assessments before they plant biofuel crops. It urges governments to use low-risk species of crops for biofuels and introduce new controls to manage invasive species.

“The dangers that invasive species pose to the world couldn’t be more serious,” says Sarah Simons, Executive Director of GISP. “They are one of the top causes of global species loss, they can threaten livelihoods and human health, and they cost us billions in control and mitigation efforts. We simply cannot afford to stand by and do nothing in the face of this threat.”

It is estimated that the damage from invasive species costs the world more than $1.4 trillion annually – five percent of the global economy. The US alone spends $120 billion annually on the control and impacts of more than 800 invasive species infestations.

The giant reed (Arundo donax), for example, is a proposed biofuel crop from West Asia which is already invasive in parts of North and Central America. Naturally flammable, it increases the likelihood of wildfires – a threat to both humans and native species in places such as California. In South Africa, the giant reed is considered a national problem as it drinks 2,000 liters of water per standing meter of growth, threatening water security for the nation’s growing human population.

Many of the plant species being considered for biofuels have the potential to become invasive if introduced to new areas, the report warns. Few governments have adequate systems in place to assess risks of invasion or contain them once they occur, and developing countries are the most vulnerable.

“Prevention is better than the cure,” says Geoffrey Howard, IUCN’s Global Invasive Species Coordinator. “We need to stop invasions before they occur. The biofuel industry is a relatively new concept so we have a unique opportunity to act early and get ahead of the game – we mustn’t throw that away.”

The African oil palm is another example of the havoc an invasive species can wreak. It is recommended for biodiesel and has already become invasive in parts of Brazil, turning areas of threatened forest from a rich mix of trees and plant life into a homogenous layer of palm leaves.

A meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity currently being held in Bonn, Germany, represents the best opportunity in a decade to take global action against invasive species. GISP is calling on delegates to recognize the dangers invasive species cause and recommend risk assessments before biofuel crops are planted. It also calls on the scientific community to conduct more desperately-needed research into this topic.

For the full report please visit: http://www.gisp.org/

For more information, please contact:

Sarah Halls, IUCN Media Relations Officer, Tel: +41 22 999 0127; Mobile: +49 170 721 4198; Email: sarah.halls@iucn.org.
Brian Thomson, IUCN Communications, Tel:+41 22 999 0251; Mobile: +49 170 693 8536; Email: brian.thomson@iucn.org


About GISP
GISP, the Global Invasive Species Programme, is an international partnership dedicated to tackling the global threat of invasive species. Founded by CABI, IUCN, the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Nature Conservancy, GISP aims to conserve biodiversity and sustain livelihoods by minimizing the spread and impact of invasive alien species. www.gisp.org

About our partners:

IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

CABI is a not-for-profit international organization formerly known as the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux which now operates simply as CABI. The GISP secretariat is hosted by CABI Africa, based in Nairobi. CABI has been working in invasive species for nearly 100 years and is currently working on 60 invasive plants. www.cabi.org

South African National Biodiversity Institute was established in 2004 through the signing of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10. The Act expanded the mandate of SANBI's forerunner, the National Botanical Institute to include responsibilities relating to the full diversity of South Africa's fauna and flora, and built on the internationally respected programmes in conservation, research, education and visitor services developed over the past century. www.sanbi.org

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.