Biofuels pose several environmental and social risks. Therefore, to be truly a part of the green economy, biofuels need to comply with a set of safeguards along the entire production chain. Any bioenergy development strategy must integrate  such safeguards at all levels, from policy to investments and the project itself. Achieving this will contribute to:

  • sustainable management of natural resources, allowing for long-term use and resilience of the sector’s development;
  • managing reputational risk which may severely impact the sector’s growth; and,
  • avoidance of unintended consequences.

Such safeguards ultimately enhance the acceptability and competitiveness of the bioenergy sector.

Technically achievable potential must be matched with a comprehensive assessment of sustainable – socially and environmentally desirable – potential.

The good news is that integrated planning and management of key concerns can minimise risks and create additional opportunities. Furthermore, it be possible to gradually bridge the difference between the technical and the sustainable potential of biofuels by further implementing best agricultural practices and developing better technologies.

To date, safeguards have mainly concentrated on GHG balances of various feedstocks, conversion processes, and end-use chains (pathways). Biodiversity and water impacts, however, have received relatively little attention.

 Figure 3.1 - Abandoned land, Food insecurity index, Water scarcity

Figure 3.2 - Technical and sustainable biomass supply potentials and expected demand for biomass in 2050 (primary energy)

As impacts can be significant, they need to be assessed from a number of angles, including:

  • Direct and indirect land-use changes, with potential impacts on GHG emissions and biodiversity (Figure 3.3);
  • Food security, water quality and availability.

Although some biofuels may be considered energy- efficient in their production and use, they can still be detrimental to biodiversity, water quality or social development. In some instances, the complete opposite may be true – an energy-inefficient biofuel might have substantially less social and environmental impacts. Consequently, all factors and trade-offs need to be assessed when developing safeguards.

 Figure 3.3 - Biofuels crops and biodiversity

 Figure 3.4 - Energy e  ciency of fuels – how many kilometres can we drive?


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