Image courtesy of Wrote via flickr
Amidst renewed fears over the impact of biofuels on the environment, which a recent Royal Society report warned could "do more harm than good," the European Union has issued a draft law that would propose a ban on the imports of biofuels derived from crops grown on certain types of land — such as forests, wetlands and grasslands. It would also require them to deliver a — as yet undetermined — "minimum level of greenhouse gas savings."
The ban would particularly target environmentally harmful crops like palm oil, which Europe imports from Southeast Asia; it could also affect a few crops grown in Latin America, including soy, wheat and sugar beets. The decision to enforce a ban comes in the wake of a rash of studies that have downplayed or thoroughly discredited some of the more bullish claims made by biofuel producers. As we've reported on before, Southeast Asia in particular has paid a high environmental cost for the production of palm oil. According to Adrien Bebb of Friends of the Earth, the draining and deforesting of peatlands in the region currently account for up to 8% of global annual carbon dioxide emissions.
Moreover, policymakers worldwide have expressed growing concern over the effects of biofuel production on the quantity and price of crops; in developing countries, where food and money are already scarce, they are worried that the shift to a biofuel-based economy could result in mass famines and an outbreak of conflicts.
"Indiscriminately increasing the amount of biofuels we are using may not automatically lead to the best reductions in emissions. The greenhouse gas savings of each depends on how crops are grown and converted and how the fuel is used," said John Pickett of Rothamsted Research, who contributed to the Royal Society report.
Instead of seeking to make 10% of the transport fuels consumed by 2020 derived from renewable sources, the report suggests establishing emissions reductions targets.