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For many policymakers biofuels must have seemed like a dream come true. The arguments put forward by supporters were plentiful and powerful. Carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) could be cut because the biofuel crops absorb CO2 while they grow and energy security could be guaranteed because biofuels can be grown at home or imported from stable regions rather than oil states. The car industry also liked them because they took political focus away from vehicle fuel efficiency and fuel consumption reduction as a route to cutting CO2 emissions. Farmers liked them because it created another market for their products and new agro-business opportunities.

The EU and other regions hurried to put in place volume targets and financial incentives to force the market to adopt biofuels. This caused enormous increase in production, which tripled between the years 2000 and 2007. However, in the rush, the full impacts of their production were not well understood. And focusing on expansion of biofuels - rather than on the goal (carbon emissions reductions) - caused important lacks in assessing the impacts of production and consumption of biofuels on climate, environment and society.

Therefore, properly set analysis and assessment of the total life cycle of biofuels is essential for the objective assessment. Recent studies show that most biofuels do not fulfil the minimal limits of greenhouse gases emissions set by the EU, but they even show worse balance than fossil fuels.odlesňovanie_malajzia_sarawak

Energy crops are grown by intensive method and are generally more dependent on wide usage of fertilizers and pesticides. Nitrogen, present in fertilizers, is subsequently released in form of nitrous oxide (N2O) and is up to 300 times more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. Impact of biofuels on land use change is one of the most controversial issues in the overall life cycle assessment of biofuels.  Change of the land character (e. g. for the purposes of biofuels cultivation) causes, in dependence on the original character, considerable greenhouse gas emissions. It is called “carbon debt”.

For example, the conversion of peat forest (typical for Southeast Asia) to the oil palm plantation (designated for biofuels) results in carbon debt of more than 400 years, compared to the original status of forest. It is estimated that meeting our 10% target will require from 2.5 to 3 million extra hectares of oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. 50% of the plantations will be located on peat soil.

If the biofuels production drives out previous production and consequently it has to move to other (and often non-agricultural) areas, we are talking about the indirect impact on land use change (ILUC - indirect land use change). This factor plays a crucial role. However, it is not included in the assessment process.

Biofuels may help certain countries to reduce partially their dependence on oil. However, at the same time, they pose a risk to people and global food security. Their cultivation is becoming lucrative especially with higher price of oil, which is in fact very unstable. Since the energy market is extremely powerful, its impact on the overall structure of agricultural land use may be crucial in the future.  The larger share of agricultural production will be processed into biofuels, the less food and feed raw materials will be left for the market and it will inevitably bring about rise in food prices.



"While many worry about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs. And it is getting more and more difficult every day.”

                                                                  Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, 2008


Intensive cultivation and promotion of crops for biofuel production leads to the expansion of monoculture plantations. Most notable examples can be found in Southeast Asia and South America. In these areas, the cultivation expansion of oil palm and soya leads to dramatic deforestation. Biofuels threaten global biodiversity both directly, when they are grown at the expense of natural ecosystems, as well as indirectly, when they push out original production from the fields, which has to subsequently move to other, often non-agricultural areas.


PROPOSALS for sustainable solutions

CEPTA proposes:

  • Stopping increasing the share of biofuels in transport until 2014, when the planned revision of the overall objectives of the Renewable Energy Directive with respect to food security, biodiversity, land use change and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will be executed;
  • Including the factor of indirect land use changes, social and environmental impacts of intensive and large-scale production of biofuels in the life cycle analysis of biofuels;
  • Using all supporting mechanisms, including the EU funds for development of non-automotive transport and promoting the use of public transport, trains, non-motorized transport in urban areas etc.;
  • Promoting legislatively the production of energy efficient cars and in particular other, more efficient types of power (e. g. electric cars);
  • Confirming legislatively gradual limits reduction of CO 2 emissions per kilometre for cars and also limits of solid particles emissions (soot, PM 2.5 and PM 10) mainly in urban areas. Pursuing these priorities at the EU level;
  • Supporting domestic production and consumption of products, development of local or regional production-consumption chains, thereby increasing employment and self-sufficiency of rural regions and significantly reducing the need for absurd transportation of goods across the countries and continents;
  • Establishing an ecological tax that would reflect positive and negative externalities (environmental, social) associated with their production, transport and consumption in the product price.

CEPTA has been focused on the topic of ecologization of conventional agriculture and rural development for a long time. Since 2008 CEPTA has participated in international project Feeding and Fuelling Europe, which aims to raise awareness of the EU citizens of the biofuels impact on food security, rural life and the environment in developing countries and to provide opportunities, solutions and suggestions for people, politicians and industry. The project is implemented by an alliance of environmentalists, farmers and organizations focused on sustainable development within the EU.

CEPTA is not against local production and use of biofuels for transport, but the standards and criteria, which take into account environmental and social impacts of their production, transport and consumption, must be clearly defined. Only thus they can be a contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, diversification of energy sources and rural development promotion.


National coordinator of the biofuels campaign:

Andrej Devečka

Tel: 00421 905 973 650

E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it





Last Updated on Friday, 11 March 2011 10:05

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