Assessing Biofuels report
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|Type||Independent scientific assessment|
|Publication||October 2009, International Resource Panel|
The report Towards Sustainable Production and use of Resources: Assessing Biofuels is one of several scientific assessments to be published by the International Resource Panel (IRP) of the United Nations Environment Programme. The IRP provides independent scientific assessments and expert advice on a variety of areas, including:
• the volume of selected raw material reserves and how efficiently these resources are being used
• the lifecycle-long environmental impacts of products and services created and consumed around the globe
• options to meet human and economic needs with fewer or cleaner resources.
About the report
Biofuels emerged as an alternative to fossil fuels as it became apparent that humans were overloading the Earth's atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect. However, as the number of publications devoted to this renewable form of energy mushroomed, policy-makers found it increasingly difficult to identify the pertinent facts on which to make decisions regarding biofuel development and use. This report sought to solve this problem by reviewing the existing literature and considering biofuel production in relation to population growth, future food requirements and climate change. The report concluded that a far more sophisticated approach needs to be taken when developing biofuels as an environmentally friendly energy option.
The report authors found that while burning some biofuels can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, not all biofuel use leads to cuts in greenhouse gases. The processes of growing and converting the biomass to fuel determined each biofuel's environmental performance. For example, the researchers found that palm oil biodiesel could reduce emissions when compared to fossil fuels by 80 per cent. However, if the plant from which the palm oil was extracted was grown on cropland from cleared tropical forests, greenhouse gas emissions could be as much as 800 per cent higher. And if the land used to grow the palms was cleared from ancient peatlands, the emissions increase over using fossil fuels could rise to 2000 per cent. The report authors found that use of residues and waste was usually more beneficial for the environment than growing crops especially for fuel, as using waste products required no additional land and provided economic benefits.