Biofuels: indirect land use change and climate impact

Jun 2010

The present report focuses on net GHG emission reduction in the transport sector.
The EU RED biofuels target for 2020 is to have 10% of fuel demand in EU road transport covered by biofuels. This translates to a potential amount of biofuels of approximately 32 Mtoe. The amount actually utilized will probably be less, since various types of biofuels (2nd generation, biogas, waste-derived ethanol and biodiesel) can contribute doubly to the 10% target. Current biofuels consumption amounts to 10 Mtoe, or 3% of current EU transport fuel consumption.
Reductions related to biofuels utilization should be determined using a so-called chain analysis or LCA approach that considers the GHG emissions associated with the various production phases (or chain links) in the biofuel production chain. These aggregate emissions should then be compared with the emissions associated with fossil fuel-based transport fuels and should (from 2017 on) be at least 50% lower.
However, several recent scientific articles by, among others, Searchinger and Fargione (2008) indicate that certain emissions may be being overlooked, in particular the emissions due to indirect land use changes initiated by biofuels policies around the world. The articles concerned indicate that these emissions may be of such a magnitude that the reductions envisaged under the RED are actually being more than nullified, with global greenhouse gas emissions in fact increasing.
This report considers the issue of indirect land use change initiated by EU biofuels policy and seek to answer the following questions:
- What is the probability of biofuels policies initiating land use changes?
- What greenhouse gas emissions may result from indirect land use change, expressed as a factor in the mathematical relation given above?
- What technical measures can be applied and what policy measures adopted to limit or entirely mitigate indirect land use change and the associated GHG emissions?
Chapter 2 discusses the mechanism of indirect land use change, and why there is a perception among stakeholders that there is a serious risk that EU biofuels policy will initiate indirect land use change (Chapter 3). Figures cited by other studies are considered as an indication of the magnitude the associated GHG emissions (Chapter 4). Then the technical possibilities for mitigation are discussed (Chapter 5) and, finally, recommendations for additional policies for mitigating indirect land use change are presented.

By: H.J. Croezen, G.C. Bergsma, M.B.J. Otten, M.P.J. van Valkengoed (CE Delft)

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