Promotion of biofuels should focus on ensuring environmental performance and deploying new technologies, rather than on high-volume production of the biofuels in use today. That is the recommendation of a new WRI report, titled Plants at the Pump: Biofuels, Climate Change, and Sustainability, released today at the 13th U.N. climate change conference (COP-13) in Bali, Indonesia.
Biofuels are being heralded as an alternative to oil that can be grown by farmers across the globe, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and addressing many of the economic, security, and environmental concerns associated with oil dependence. The solution is not that simple, however, because the life-cycle energy efficiency and environmental impacts of biofuels vary significantly depending on feedstocks, production methods, and scale.
Plants at the Pump examines the feasibility of achieving significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from greater production of biofuels. It looks at issues raised by current biofuels technologies and policies, along with their positive and negative environmental impacts. The report concludes that biofuels are not a complete, nor even the primary, solution to the world’s transport fuel needs.
“Policy makers need to focus more on ensuring that biofuels actually deliver environmental and energy benefits than on ramping up production” according to Britt Childs, the study’s lead author. “Today’s biofuels pose real risks to food supply and forests that need to be better understood.”
Biofuels do have potential to play some role in meeting future energy demand. But since large-scale carbon displacement would require significant destruction of global forests, the benefits of biofuels would likely be outweighed by the costs with respect to forestry, agriculture markets, and economic hardship for the world’s poor. New sustainability standards under development in different parts of the world can help address these challenges, but many impacts are still poorly understood.
Plants at the Pump also looks at how policies drive investment, and argues that some technology incentives will make rapid scale-up of next-generation biofuels particularly challenging. “Next generation biofuels technologies may address some of the environmental issues, and represent some genuinely interesting investment opportunities” said Rob Bradley, Director of WRI’s International Climate Policy Initiative. “As with all new technologies, market penetration may be slower than we hope, but in time they may have a significant role in a broader set of sustainable transport policies.”
Plants at the Pump is part of an ongoing collaboration between WRI and the Goldman Sachs Center for Environmental Markets. The report is available online at http://www.wri.org/publication/plants-at-the-pump
Tim Herzog, media officer, +(62) 0857 1018 7079, email@example.com
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