Land use, bioenergy and agro-biotechnology

Mar 2008

In this paper, the WBGU has posed five main framing questions to deal with genetically modified (GM) bioenergy crops:
1) To what extent could biotechnology influence global sustainable plant production?;
2) To what extent could biotechnology decrease the potential of land-use competition by increasing yields?;
3)What is the range of expected yield improvements that can be found in existing assessments?;
4)What may be the risks?; and
5) Could biotech possibly even increase the potential for competition between different land uses, i.e. due to crowding-out effects or bio-safety concerns?
The authors argue that governments justify promoting biofuels for the following because they help reduce carbon emissions, enhance energy security and produce energy in more sustainable ways. However, crops that can be used for bioenergy have already been generating societal conflicts over land use and sustainability, especially degradation of natural resources. Doubts have also been raised about savings in carbon emissions, highly dependent upon the context and modes of bioenergy production. In this context, GM crops have been promoted as a future means for eventually avoiding such conflicts, especially by increasing yields. Such hopes help to justify current government policy, so that economic incentives stimulate the development of novel GM crops for bioenergy. However, authors developed this critique of GM crops since they may lead to land competition and sustainability problems.
This paper investigates in Section 1 the mentioned framing questions. Section 2 analyses Agbiotech R&D and future promises for bioenergy while Section 3 explores the causes of unsustainable production and land-use competition. Section 4 investigates conflicts extended through GM bioenergy crops. Section 5 deals with sustainable production being pre-empted and Section 6 evaluate drivers of GM crops for bioenergy. Lastly, Section 7 introduces conclusions.

By: L. Levidow, H. Paul (German Advisory Council on Global Change – WBGU)

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