The last word on biofuels

It’s December and the weekend newspaper supplements are already starting to swell with all those ‘end of the year’ reviews – on news, sport, books, films, celebrity gossip… In the same spirit my German Marshall Fund colleague Dr Tim Searchinger has written a policy brief that brings together in one place the conclusions of ten major reviews of biofuel policies that have been released by leading international insitutions, national technical agencies, and international scientific organizations since January 2008.

The reviews come from a variety of respected organisations ranging from the World Bank to the United Nations to the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. Overall, the results do not make happy reading for the dwindling band of biofuels boosters. Findings include:

– Biofuels generated on croplands or natural habitat have great potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions when acccounting for the impacts on land use.

– Biofuels made from waste carbon, such as forest or crop residues and municipal waste, or grown on abandoned and degraded lands hold the most promise for greenhouse gas benefits.

– Biofuels have contributed significantly to the worldwide increases in crop prices over the last few years although prices will come down as markets adjust if demand does not continue to increase rapidly.

– Available biomass should be preferentially used for heat and electricity because doing so generates larger greenhouse gas reductions at lower economic cost.

– Economic costs of biofuel subsidies have been high per liter of biofuel.

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