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CBD Secretariat Study on Biofuels and Biodiversity Highlights Opportunities, Risks

September 2012: The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has released a report analyzing and summarizing some of the major issues related to biofuels and biodiversity on the basis of the best available scientific information.

Circulated as CBD Technical Series no. 65, the report highlights the complexities behind the topic, noting opportunities for biofuels to contribute to sustainable development, but also risks.

Among its key messages, the report notes that the energy security and greenhouse gas benefits of many current applications of liquid biofuels remain unproven. Although small-scale production of biofuels may be sustainable and have many beneficial applications, there have been concerns about the sustainability of large-scale production, such as biodiversity loss, conflicts with food security and increased net greenhouse gas emissions. The report stresses that further development of sustainability criteria and standards is needed to consider all possible relevant impacts based on full life-cycle analyses that include land-use change. It notes in particular that land-use change resulting from increased biofuel production exacerbates the risk of losing biodiversity and ecosystem services and causing net increases in greenhouse gas emissions, while indirect land-use change remains the key unresolved biodiversity-related issue, including for the assessment of life-cycle analyses of greenhouse gases.

The report notes that focusing biofuel production on degraded or abandoned land may alleviate some land-use pressures and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but will probably not fill a high percentage of the world's energy demands. It also recommends that financial support for biofuels generating more environmental and greenhouse gas benefits should be prioritized, as should incentives for research and development of biofuels that use wastes and residues as feedstock.

The report goes on to note that biofuel feedstock expansion has occurred mostly in developing countries, where concerns about food security of vulnerable populations is increasing as large-scale land acquisitions have increased radically over recent years. It notes that problems in this context lie mostly with large industrial-scale plantations and the process by which investors acquire land under customary use and ownership. The report says stakeholder participation, engagement in decision-making and monitoring progress are crucial to ensure that local communities benefit from biofuels development, and for negative impacts to be prevented. Finally, it stresses that biofuels need to be assessed more holistically under a broader framework of sustainable energy consumption and production. [Publication: Biofuels and Biodiversity]