“On 8 February 2006 the European Commission adopted an ambitious EU Strategy for Biofuels, with a range of potential market-based, legislative and research measures to boost production of fuels from agricultural raw materials. This complements the Biomass Action Plan put forward in December 2005. The Commission´s Communication outlining the strategy sets out three main aims:
Increased use of biofuels will bring numerous benefits by reducing Europe´s dependence on fossil fuel imports, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, providing new outlets for farmers and opening up new economic possibilities in several developing countries.”
Click here for the website of the IIED
Biofuels- should we burn them? A European view
An abridged article by Thierry Bréchet, professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium – a free translation from the French.
In an article about biofuels (12 September 2007), the Belgian newspaper “Le Soir” provocatively asked: “Jumping out of the frying pan into the fire – should we be disillusioned about biofuels?” The writer was referring to the loss of biodiversity that comes from sacrificing bio-diverse landscapes to biofuel production, the run on biofuels on the international markets and the excessive costs of CO2 reduction.
What’s the ecological principle of biofuels? Burning them releases the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere which had been fixed by photosynthesis during plant growth, resulting in a neutral CO2 balance. This has led to the idea of replacing fossil fuels by so-called biofuels: a good idea in terms of marketing but ecologically misleading. Biofuels have nothing to do with “bio”: it would be more accurate to talk about agrofuels.
Judging by the press articles, subsidies and rules adopted at the European level and in most of the European countries, agrofuels have been praised to the skies. They are a simple answer to:” How can I drive my four-wheeler without drowning penguins?”
But tough reality forces itself upon us. This leads me to two conclusions:
First: That it is important to look at the objectives globally, not just from the perspective of your own backyard. The impacts for certain groups (consumers, enterprises) should be put into a broader context for the common good. A big challenge, of course.
Nevertheless economists don’t typically connect the individual to the whole of society, in contrast to the “act locally-think globally” proposed by those who support sustainable development. The effects of European policy on biodiversity in the producing countries or on the cash-crop markets by promoting (to some extent blindly) biofuels, together with the effects on price of bread in Europe, clearly show a lack of global vision.
Second: There are rarely simple answers to complex problems. In this case politicians would like to believe in simple solutions and make people think the same. But in the case of environmental questions nothing is simply black or white. Most of our actions have a negative effect on the environment and our neighbours.
In economical science ‘pollution’ is defined as a disturbance provoked by the activity of one (or more) individuals towards one or more other individuals, carried out without intending to harm and without it being possible for the victims to ‘make arrangements’ with the polluter. To ‘make arrangements’ both parties would have to be operating on equal terms, in order to negotiate about the amount of pollution. In this case these negotiations would be backed up by official regulations (e.g. Climate change and the role of the UN).
In energy policy diversification of sources is one of the key elements of the challenges we face. Neither agrofuels, nor nuclear power, nor Aladdin’s lamp are the only solutions or the miracle we are seeking.
Finally I want to answer the question this article began with: “Should we burn them?” Yes, we should. That means using a certain quantity of certain agrofuels- but it is not the magic solution either in respect to the challenges we face in the field of energy or the environment. A drastic reduction in the consumption of fuel for transport and heating is a less costly option from the economic point of view and more efficient from the environmental point of view. Instead of burning biofuels at all costs, this is the nettle that responsible consumers and no-less responsible politicians must grasp.
I would like to round up the picture by following up on the below questions:
Drylands and biofuels
perspectives of Asia, Africa, Latin America
to be added: jatropa—biofuel Gtz at COP8—who attended there?
2nd generation biofuel technologies: biomass-to-ethanol, e.g. ligno-cellulosic processing – e.g. from forest materials, or other biomass-to-liquid biofuel technologies – Fischer-Tropsch biodiesel and bio-DME [dimethyl]; the 2nd generation technologies will use a wider range of biomass resources- agriculture, forestry and waste materials.
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