Biofuel shock

Wednesday 09 May 2007

UN report warns of serious environmental damage

It’s been heralded as the eco-way forward but now a damning UN report has condemned its use. The report by a cross-agency body, UN Energy, explains that the forecast increase in production will take millions of hectares of precious farmland and devour what’s left of the world’s dwindling water supplies.

Biofuels had been seen as a clean and cheap alternative to greenhouse gasses. Soaring demand for palm oil, a constituent of biodiesel, has already lead to tropical forests being cleared in South East Asia. Friends of the Earth have turned on the fuel saying that, “We are struggling to feed people and suddenly we want to feed our cars on crops”

The report will come as a shock to many governments that have included biofuels as a key component in their strategy to meet their Kyoto targets. South Africa’s department of minerals and energy is currently conducting a road show as part of its national draft bio-fuels strategy and has just unveiled a pilot project to plant 70 000ha of canola on communal land and then process it into bio-fuel at a plant. The US aims to increase production by seven fold. Even Germany's cheap beer tradition is under threat from biofuels. Barley is increasingly being displaced in the country's fields by heavily subsidized crops used for biofuels. Hence prices are being driven up.

The report concludes that biomass may have a role to play in the provision of heat and power, "Current research concludes that using biomass for combined heat and power (CHP), rather than for transport fuels or other uses, is the best option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade - and also one of the cheapest,"

So it looks as if it’s back to the drawing board for our green strategies.

Michael Hammond

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