This article summarizes and updates the conclusions of the Plants at the Pump report, released in December 2007.
As biofuels become a larger part of the social, economic, and environmental strategies of countries around the world, standards and regulations are needed to ensure that biofuels do in fact reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and promote sustainable development.
In a world of rapidly rising GHG emissions and growing unease about imported oil, the appeal of renewable fuels is growing apace. Biofuels — liquids produced from plant matter that can substitute for gasoline or diesel fuel—have become a hot topic from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Despite their promise, however, recent research suggests that most of today’s biofuels increase GHG emissions compared to gasoline or diesel fuel. These increases in greenhouse gas emissions primarily result from land-use changes associated with growing crops for biofuels. The scale-up of biofuels to meet market demands for alternative fuels should therefore be examined further for its impacts on greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse gas emissions concerns, coupled with rising global food prices, have called into question biofuels policies, and some of the “silver bullet” sheen has begun to wear off. Policy makers should understand that the term “biofuels” covers a range of products with varying potentials to achieve energy, climate, transportation, or agricultural policy aims. A key policy question, then, is how to ensure that biofuels do not cause greater harm than good. Policy makers should: