Working together towards sustainable biofuels

On the Futures Pavilion at the World Conservation Congress, Toyota Europe launched their 2008 Sustainability Report. It contained a special feature "Are biofuels the solution", to which IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre was invited to contribute. The text is reproduced below. The full report can be downloaded from Toyota's website.

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Energy systems are changing. Development imperatives, concerns about climate change and issues of security are leading societies to re-examine their energy options and pursue renewable forms of energy. Societies need to address the amount of energy they use and how they use it.

According to the European Commission, transport currently accounts for 32% of European energy consumption and 28% of total CO2 emissions. However, the sector is expected to account for some 90% of the increase in emissions between 1990 and 2010. Car companies have a crucial role in not only increasing the efficiency of vehicles but also to raise awareness amongst consumers of some of the simple steps they can make to reduce their personal energy use, such as green driving tips.

Societies not only need to address the “demand-side” issues, but also the source of their energy, so-called “supply-side” issues. Biofuels, based on organic waste as well as plants, are one way of replacing fossil fuels such as diesel and petrol. More than 50 countries worldwide have policies in place to promote biofuels. The European Commission, for example, has set biofuel volume targets of 5.75% by 2010 and 10% by 2020. However, if not well planned, such emerging policies will have significant implications for the environment, including protected areas, water systems and threatened species, as well as the communities who depend on nature. More importantly, biofuel production has the potential to displace other agricultural production with knock-on effects for food production. The rapid growth in the global biofuels market is dramatic and means that we must move quickly to create the conditions for a positive relationship between biofuels, ecosystems and livelihoods.

Standards and criteria are important tools for safeguarding against the potential negative consequences of biofuels production and markets and a potential means of providing incentives for sustainable production practices. In order for such schemes to be accepted and implemented, it is important to include all groups who may potentially be affected, including governments, environmental and social NGOs, small and large biofuels producers, farmers, indigenous peoples, oil companies and car companies. Many processes are underway to develop criteria for sustainable biofuels production, including the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) in which both IUCN and Toyota are involved. IUCN supports this process in particular as a genuinely multi-stakeholder, innovative and global approach to developing credible biofuels standards.

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