Bioenergy / Biomass

Large-scale bioenergy must be excluded from the renewable energy definition

We, the signatories of this declaration, are calling on the European Union (EU) to exclude bioenergy from its next Renewable Energy Directive (RED), and thereby stop direct and indirect subsidies for renewable energy from biofuels and wood-burning.

Bioenergy Out: Why bioenergy should not be included in the next EU Renewable Energy Directive

Renewable energy legislation such as the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) aims to significantly scale up forms of energy classed as renewable, with the stated aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There has been a lack of critical debate about the definition of renewable energy to date. According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy is "energy derived from natural processes (e.g. sunlight and wind) that are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed".

Large-scale industrial bioenergy does not meet this definition because it relies on a major expansion of industrial agriculture,
monoculture tree plantations, and industrial logging, which deplete and pollute soils and water, destroy natural ecosystems and biodiversity, and destroy the livelihoods of many millions of people, particularly in the global South.
Furthermore, large-scale industrial bioenergy cannot meet the EU’s stated aim of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) because it leads to emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases that are commonly greater than those from the use of fossil fuels.
Nevertheless, within the EU's overall renewable energy target, bioenergy competes with more sustainable and climate-friendly renewable energy rather than with fossil fuels.
This briefing makes the case for taking bioenergy out the new EU Renewable Energy Directive for 2020-230.

A Foreseeable Disaster: The European Union’s agroenergy policies and the global land and water grab

Why despite ten years of accumulating evidence on the social and environmental cost of agrofuels, does the European Commission persist with its failed policies? An analysis of the EU's bioeconomy vision, how it is fuelling land grabs in Africa, the agrofuels lobby that drives policy, and the alternative visions for energy that are being ignored.

Biofuels: how many are invasive alien species?

It was interesting to hear from Brazil this evening that the biofuels text was unbalanced and too negative about biofuels and that Jatropha, for example, is good for climate mitigation. It was also instructive to learn that there are no invasive alien species issues around biofuels. Considering that there a lot of scientific evidence points to some biofuels also being invasive species, it really made one wonder if some delegates realise that SBSTTA is actually a scientific body. Just some of the invasive alien species considered for biofuel include perennial grasses such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea), miscanthus (Miscanthus spp.), and giant reed (Arundo donax). Then there are trees such from the poplar family (Populus spp.), willows (Salix spp.) and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp). In addition we have Jatropha (Jatropha curcas), African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), and moringa (Moringa oleifera). This is only a very short extract from a long list. A number of these species have already demonstrated their invasiveness in different regions. Some readily create an invasive monoculture that wipes out biodiversity. Others combine to create alien landscapes that superficially resemble simplified ecosystems.

We also heard from NGO Searice of the Philippines that algae ‘without a name’, destined for biofuel production, were going to be introduced in a marine sanctuary – an area of one million hectares close to the shore, a region regularly visited by dolphins and whales. The fact that these algae were apparently nameless caused Searice to wonder if they were actually a product of synthetic biology. Local communities successfully resisted the project, using the precautionary principle. However, these algae were also destined for release in other areas and we do not know what happened there.

Are we continuing to fuel Biodiversity Loss?

Industrial scale bioenergies, including biofuels are rapidly expanding, creating massive new demand for wood, vegetable oil and agricultural products. Already these demands are inflicting serious and irreversible impacts on forests and other natural ecosystems, soils and water resources. Expansion of industrial monocultures, including tree plantations, to meet this demand occurs at the expense of biodiversity and food production, while also contributing to “land grabs”, undermining the rights of peasant farmers and indigenous peoples, and hampering efforts to achieve food sovereignty and agrarian reform.
The CBD Secretariat's report rightly acknowledges many of these negative impacts. However, in line with COP10 decision X/37, it focuses predominantly on 'tools', i.e. standards and certification, to address the often complex direct and indirect negative impacts, without assessing whether those tools are credible instruments.
Standards and certification schemes per se have not been effective and are no match for countering the drivers of bioenergy expansion: targets, mandates and subsidies, especially in Europe and North America. To effectively address the negative impacts, those incentives need to be eliminated.

Soy production and certification: the case of Argentinean soy-based biodiesel

With the rising emphasis on biofuels as a potential solution to climate change, this paper asks whether certification schemes, developed to promote sustainable feedstock production, are able to deliver genuine sustainability benefits. The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) is a certification scheme that aims to promote responsible soy production through the development of principles and criteria. However, can and does this initiative address the negative impacts associated with the intensive production of soy? Taking the example of soy biodiesel produced in Argentina, this paper asks whether the social and environmental impacts of soybean production can be mitigated by the RTRS. It concludes that at present certification schemes are unlikely to be able to address either the institutional challenges associated with their implementation or the detrimental impacts of the additional demand generated by biofuels.

EU biofuel target causes serious damage in the Global South

We believe that serious damage being done in the global south by the EU biofuel target and that sustainability criteria are completely inadequate to address this.

A dangerous precedent

The Precautionary Principle advises society to be cautious about a technology or practice where there is scientific uncertainty, ignorance, gaps in knowledge or the likelihood of outcomes we did not predict or intend. It runs counter to the optimistic notion that any negative impacts from a technology can be addressed and may provide an opportunity to develop new solutions, so contributing to economic growth. The US Chamber of Commerce dislikes the precautionary approach and prefers: “the use of sound science, cost-benefit analysis, and risk assessment when assessing a particular regulatory issue.” Its strategy is therefore to: “Oppose the domestic and international adoption of the precautionary principle as a basis for regulatory decision making.”

EU biofuel (agrofuel) target

By 2020 each European country should be using 10% biofuel in transport. This target is mainly to provide stability for commercial investment in biofuels. Even though many EU countries are not building up to the implementation of the target as quickly as expected, it is already causing serious damage to ecosystems, biodiversity, food production and communities in the global south. Yet many people in the UK and other EU countries are not aware that every time they fill up their cars with petrol, they are burning biofuel.

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