European plans to promote biofuels will drive farmers to convert 69,000 square km of wild land into fields and plantations, depriving the poor of food and accelerating climate change, a report warned on Monday.
The impact equates to an area the size of the Republic of Ireland.
As a result, the extra biofuels that Europe will use over the next decade will generate between 81 and 167 percent more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, says the report.
Nine environmental groups reached the conclusion after analysing official data on the European Union’s goal of getting 10 percent of transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020.
But 23 of the EU’s 27 member states have now published their national strategies for renewable energy, revealing that fully 9.5 percent of transport fuel will be biofuel in 2020, 90 percent of which will come from food crops, the report says.
The debate centres on a new concept known as “indirect land-use change.”
In essence, that means that if you take a field of grain and switch the crop to biofuel, somebody, somewhere, will go hungry unless those missing tonnes of grain are grown elsewhere.
The crops to make up the shortfall could come from anywhere, and economics often dictate that will be in tropical zones, encouraging farmers to hack out new land from fertile forests.
Burning forests to clear that land can pump vast quantities of climate-warming emissions into the atmosphere, enough to cancel out any of the benefits the biofuels were meant to bring.
The indirect effects of the EU’s biofuel strategy will generate an extra 27 to 56 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, says the report. In the worst case, that would be the equivalent of putting another 26 million cars on Europe’s roads, it added.
The UK, Spain, Germany, Italy and France are projected to produce the most extra greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels, generating up to 13.3, 9.5, 8.6, 5.3 and 3.9 extra million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year respectively.