Two new studies published in Science magazine add to the mounting evidence that most biofuels are actually increasing carbon emissions, rather than reducing them. The current boom in biofuels in the EU and US is entirely driven by government policies and subsidies, which are invariably presented as a way of addressing climate change by reducing carbon emissions.
You can listen online to an interview with several of one the study’s authors Tim Searchinger, Joe Fargione, Jason Hill, and German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Fellow Dan Morgan.[audio:http://web.gmfus.org/mp3s/20080207Biofuels.mp3]
Searchinger et al say that the reason for the current boom in subsidy-driven biofuels production is that governments have calculated the carbon benefits of biofuels compared to fossil fuels without measuring the carbon costs in terms of land use change. Clearing virgin tropical rainforest to grow biofuels results a ‘carbon debt’ that will not be paid off for many decades. The same is true for bringing back marginal farmland into biofuels cultivation. The authors conclude that the only biofuels that could have a beneficial carbon balance are those derived from waste: agricultural waste, food industry waste or even human waste.
The EU’s much-touted biofuels sustainability criteria are about as useful as a chocolate fireguard, since they will merely result in substitution and displacement of existing food production clearance of new land in its place. Nevertheless, the EU shows no sign of revising its commitment to an ambitious target of 10% biofuels use in transportation fuels. When the facts change, sane people change their minds. The question is, are EU leaders sane?
The only people now cheerleading for biofuels are the farmers, refiners and oil companies who will make money producing them. Every major European environmental NGO is opposed to current biofuels policy, with the exception of WWF. Perhaps it is time to take a look at where WWF gets its money from. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune.