Saturday, 13 October 2012

COP 11 biodiversity: Biofuels have been hailed as alternative to conventional fossil fuels like petrol and diesel, but experts argue that biofuels if not planned properly will cause negative effect on biodiversity

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Biofuels have been hailed as alternative to
conventional fossil fuels like petrol and diesel, but experts argue
that biofuels if not planned properly will cause
negative effect on biodiversity.

The 11th Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention
on Biological Diversity, currently meeting in the city, is busy
debating biofuel production and its impact on biodiversity. The debate
gains significance as there is evidence that the cultivation of many
of the biofuel feedstocks are already having negative impacts on
biodiversity as a result of habitat conversion and the ‘off-farm’
impacts of pollution and soil erosion.

According to a report published by the World Conservation Monitoring
Centre of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the
production of liquid biofuels is rapidly increasing and demand-based
projections suggest that this trend is likely to continue, largely
driven by governmental targets and subsidies.

“The impacts on biodiversity will depend upon the biofuel feedstocks,
previous land use, and agricultural practices employed, and can be
positive where well-managed plantations are established in suitable
areas. However, there is evidence that the cultivation of many of the
biofuel feedstocks are already having negative impacts on biodiversity
as a result of habitat conversion and the ‘off-farm’ impacts of
pollution and soil erosion,” the report warned.

Further negative impacts are likely to be observed in the future as
the land requirements for biofuel feedstock production increase.
Biodiversity will continue to be negatively impacted under most
current scenarios of biofuel production, largely because of habitat
loss and fragmentation. The development of ‘next generation’ biofuels
offers some potential for reducing biodiversity impacts, as perennial
species grown on marginal lands and waste products from agriculture
and forestry can be utilised.

“However, the potential impacts of large-scale production are largely
unknown, and there is some skepticism over their ability to reduce
land use requirements. There are also concerns over the use of
invasive species, and the removal of ‘waste’ products from soil,” the
report added.

Biofuels have the potential to contribute to climate change
mitigation. However, this may need to be balanced against the negative
impacts on biodiversity. The impacts on biodiversity are not always
obvious and more research is needed, especially at the local level
since much of the research work focuses on global overviews.

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