New method emerges to deter “indirect” land grab for biofuel production
The Responsible Cultivation Area [RCA] methodology could complement emerging bans on converting high value ecosystems directly into biofuel productions by providing a measure to reduce the risk of indirect biofuel production impacts such as biofuel displacement of food production into conservation areas.
RCA, which has been field tested in Indonesia and Brazil, works by setting up guidelines for the expansion of energy crop production in ways that reduce the potential for it to impact on food production.
Acceptable measures would include increasing yields on existing energy crop plantations, integrating energy crop and food production and directing additional production towards ‘unused land’ with low biodiversity and low carbon stocks.
Future likely developments, such as the use of residues or aquatic biomass such as algae for energy production, will be taken into account in future versions of the methodology.
“The new methodology contains practical guidance for companies on how to identify responsible production areas with a minimum risk of unwanted direct or indirect land use change,” said Bart Dehue, Managing Consultant at Ecofys. “It also offers suggestions for legislators on how to distinguish biofuels with a low risk of indirect land use change”,.
Addressing the biofuel “sustainability gap”
At first heralded as an ideal way to decarbonising the road transport sector by delivering a low-carbon alternative to petrol and diesel, biofuels were soon facing issues over whether production that involved extensive forest clearing meant more carbon was being emitted than could be saved over even lengthy periods.
This has become known as the biofuel “sustainability gap”, and was behind an EU directive in 2009 adopting sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids These criteria include a minimum for Greenhouse Gas emission reductions compared to fossil fuels. In addition, biofuel and bioliquid production may not lead to unwanted direct land use change, such as the conversion of forests or highly biodiverse grasslands.
However, the possibility of indirect pressure on forests and the environmental and social costs involved was initially overlooked in the European sustainability criteria, currently the world’s strongest.
“There is a need to close this sustainability gap to ensure a sustainable future for biofuels”, says Imke Luebbeke from the WWF European Policy Office.
There is some recognition of this need, however. The EU is currently conducting consultations on indirect land use change pressures from biofuel production, and it is hoped the RCA methodology would be of some interest to these deliberations.