Guidelines to ensure biofuels production won't hurt the environment
August 30, 2007
World biodiesel and ethanol production, 1980-2003, based on data from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Graphic by Rhett A. Butler
"Many people are worried about biofuels contributing to deforestation and air pollution in the name of protecting the planet," said Claude Martin, former Director-General of WWF International and Chair of the Roundtable's Steering Board. "Companies and farmers want global rules that they can follow. The Roundtable will bring together all of these actors to start writing these rules together, to ensure that biofuels deliver on their promise of sustainability."
Price per unit of potential energy, dollars per million Btu. Corn price includes subsidies.
- Biofuel production should not directly or indirectly endanger wildlife species or areas of high conservation value.
- Biofuel production should not directly or indirectly degrade or damage soils.
- Biofuel production should not directly or indirectly contaminate or deplete water resources.
- Biofuel production should not directly or indirectly lead to air pollution.
- The use of biotechnologies for biofuels production should improve their social and/or environmental performance, and always be consistent with national or international biosafety protocols.
"Our hope is that in an academic setting, companies, governments, and civil organizations will be able to come to consensus on how to ensure biofuels are produced sustainably," said Dr. Patrick Aebischer, President of the EPFL.
For more information and registration to the working groups, please visit the official RSB webpage.
Biofuels driving destruction of Cerrado savanna in Brazil
(08/21/2007) The cerrado, wooded grassland in Brazil that once covered an area half the size of Europe, is fast being transformed into croplands to meet rising demand for soybeans, sugarcane, and cattle. The cerrado is now disappearing more than twice as the rate as the neighboring Amazon rainforest, according to a Brazilian expert on the savanna ecosystem.
(4/4/2007) As traditionally practiced in southeast Asia, oil palm cultivation is responsible for widespread deforestation that reduces biodiversity, degrades important ecological services, worsens climate change, and traps workers in inequitable conditions sometimes analogous to slavery. This doesn't have to be the case. Following examples set forth by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and firms like Golden Hope Plantations Berhad, a Malaysian palm oil producer, oil palm can be cultivated in a manner that helps mitigate climate change, preserves biodiversity, and brings economic opportunities to desperately poor rural populations.
(4/3/2007) The Associated Press (AP) recently quoted Marcel Silvius, a climate expert at Wetlands International in the Netherlands, as saying palm oil is a failure as a biofuel. This would be a misleading statement and one that doesn't help efforts to devise a workable solution to the multiplicity of issues surrounding the use of palm oil.
Could peatlands conservation be more profitable than palm oil?
(8/22/2007) This past June, World Bank published a report warning that climate change presents serious risks to Indonesia, including the possibility of losing 2,000 islands as sea levels rise. While this scenario is dire, proposed mechanisms for addressing climate change, notably carbon credits through avoided deforestation, offer a unique opportunity for Indonesia to strengthen its economy while demonstrating worldwide innovative political and environmental leadership. In a July 29th editorial we argued that in some cases, preserving ecosystems for carbon credits could be more valuable than conversion for oil palm plantations, providing higher tax revenue for the Indonesian treasury while at the same time offering attractive economic returns for investors.
Why is palm oil replacing tropical rainforests?
(4/25/2006) In a word, economics, though deeper analysis of a proposal in Indonesia suggests that oil palm development might be a cover for something more lucrative: logging. Recently much has been made about the conversion of Asia's biodiverse rainforests for oil-palm cultivation. Environmental organizations have warned that by eating foods that use palm oil as an ingredient, Western consumers are directly fueling the destruction of orangutan habitat and sensitive ecosystems. So, why is it that oil-palm plantations now cover millions of hectares across Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand? Why has oil palm become the world's number one fruit crop, trouncing its nearest competitor, the humble banana? The answer lies in the crop's unparalleled productivity. Simply put, oil palm is the most productive oil seed in the world. A single hectare of oil palm may yield 5,000 kilograms of crude oil, or nearly 6,000 liters of crude.