Biofuels’ green credentials called into question
Biofuels were once seen as the perfect way to make transport carbon-free, but a series of EU studies are throwing increasing doubt on the green credentials of the alternative fuel.
The latest to be released gave a preliminary assessment that biodiesel from soybeans could create four times more climate-warming emissions than conventional diesel.
The European Commission has not helped itself by keeping many of the studies hidden — the most recent being an annex cut from a published report that was only released after Reuters and several NGOs used transparency laws to gain access.
Two other studies and leaked emails have added to the dossier of worrying evidence.
At the heart of the debate is an issue drily referred to as “indirect land use change”. In short, that means that biofuels use land and soak up grain supplies, sending reverberations through world commodity markets.
So a target for biofuels set in Brussels can indirectly force up food prices on the other side of the world, making the poorest go hungry and encouraging farmers to hack into tropical forests to gain new land.
Burning forests can release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, reversing the emissions reductions the biofuels were meant to achieve in the first place.
So, what happens next? Will the European Commission propose restrictions on land-using biofuels when it issues a report on the issue later this year? Or does the fact that it has been burying these studies suggest it is trying to gloss over the problem?