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Study: Biofuel goals need rethinking

at-the-pumpGovernments should rethink their efforts to develop biofuels for transport and do more to limit demands for traditional fuels, according to a new study that draws on the work of 75 scientists from across the world.

The research finds, among other things, that relying on biofuels has the potential for increasing the gap between rich and poor.

“Rapid Assessment on Biofuels and the Environment,” which originated with a committee of the International Council for Science, reached conclusions that conflict with certain aspects of EU legislation on biofuels, notably Europe’s target for transport fuels to have a 10 per cent share by 2020 and the EU’s reluctance to recognise that growing biofuel crops can have indirect effects caused by changes in land use.

The study finds that current crops grown for biofuels are “problematic,” and others proposed for future biofuels, which are supposed to avoid harming food security or the environment, require land, water, nutrients and other inputs, and therefore compete with food crops and lead to deforestation.

The research also casts doubt on the idea of using land that cannot be used for growing food, finding there is no evidence that non-food crops can be grown efficiently for energy production on land that could not also grow crops for food. And while it says opportunities for biofuel production exist that maximise social benefits while minimising environmental impacts, it says the extent of these win-win situations is limited and their contribution to society’s energy budget will be very small.

“This is 75 scientists from 21 countries expressing all the doubts about biofuels that environmental groups have been raising over the past few years,” says Nusa Urbancic, policy officer for the European Federation for Transport and Environment. “It reiterates the point that we should be encouraging good biofuels, not just any biofuels.”

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