With concerns over energy security and climate change mounting, governments and industries are developing alternative energy sources. These include biofuels (such as ethanol from sugarcane and corn, and other fuels from crop oils such as palm oil) and energy from biomass (such as burning wood pellets in power stations for electricity). These are being promoted as a “green” source of renewable energy, and are often wrongly referred to as “carbon neutral”.
Unfortunately, bioenergy is not the panacea that industry proponents would have you think. Instead, the increasing demand for biomass and the raw products that make biofuels is rapidly becoming one of the main causes of deforestation, as natural forests are replaced by monoculture crops such as oil palms, sugar cane, and tree plantations.
Impacts on communities and forests
The growth of the biofuel industry is one of the main factors behind the current boom in agricultural commodity prices, affecting consumers all over the world, and contributing to malnutrition and starvation amongst the poor. Rising prices are also triggering a massive take-over of the lands of Indigenous Peoples and local communities by corporate owned crop plantations, leading to forced displacements in many parts of the world. Forests and other pristine ecosystems are also being rapidly converted to increase the space available for monocultures. In addition, so-called “second generation biofuels”, made from wood and cellulose-based feedstocks, are creating a huge new demand for wood that is driving the dangerous and unproven development of genetically engineered trees. The growing emphasis on wood and other tree plantation biomass as a source for agrofuels will also inevitably accelerate grassland destruction, deforestation and the replacement of native forests with monoculture plantations to meet this rising demand.
Impacts on climate change
Impacts on climate are likely to be dramatic. Forests play a major role in regulating climate and is one of the most important and cost-effective ways of mitigating climate change. The current biofuels boom is likely to have exactly the opposite effect. Any increase in deforestation caused by biofuel production will offset any gains from burning ethanol or biodiesel.
GFC is calling for an immediate moratorium on all forms of support for the expansion of biofules and large-scale bioenergy production. Although some of the negative implications of biofuel production have been recognised by governments world-wide, other significant impacts have been overlooked. These include the impact that biofuel expansion is having on rising commodity prices, and the consequences that these changing prices have in terms of increased deforestation and hunger. Suggested criteria and certification systems that are supposed to guarantee “sustainability” are unable to address this concern and are therefore a false illusion.
For a comprehensive briefing on the issues with large-scale biomass see Biofuelwatch’s “Biomass Basics”
For other resources on this campaign please see here.