U.N. Raises Doubts on Biofuels

European leaders have decided that at least 10 percent of fuels will come from biofuels like ethanol by 2020, and the U.S. Congress is working on a proposal that would increase production of biofuels sevenfold by 2022.


"More and more, people are realizing that there are serious environmental and serious food security issues involved in biofuels," Greenpeace biofuels expert Jan van Aken said. "There is more to the environment than climate change," he said. "Climate change is the most pressing issue, but you cannot fight climate change by large deforestation in Indonesia."

Individual U.N. agencies have previously issued small-scale reports on biofuels, but they were largely optimistic and did not highlight negative consequences because they were not yet known, said Gustavo Best, vice chair of U.N.-Energy and a biofuels expert at the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

But with the surge in interest by the private sector, the rise in commodity prices and an awareness of the strain on water supplies that has resulted from biofuel production, "we now have to raise the red flags and say 'be careful, don't go too fast,'" he said in an interview.

"There are winners and losers," he said.

That the report exists is something of a miracle, since there has long been opposition among U.N. member states - including OPEC, nuclear and other energy lobbies_ to have any kind of international dialogue on energy. There is for example, no U.N. Millennium Goal for energy, and recent U.N. working documents on sustainable development continue to be very fossil-fuel oriented, Best said.

The document is intended for governments to help them craft bioenergy policies that maximize the potential but minimize the negative impacts - even as the technology continues to change.

"We can't cross our arms and wait to have better data or better methodologies," Best said. "We need to contribute to the discussion, but in a balanced way."


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