EU warned: biofuels will drive biodiversity loss

 New research from the European Commission confirms that EU biofuel targets will speed up the rate of extinction of plants and animals. The EU has committed to halting biodiversity loss by 2020 – yet without reform, it’s biofuels policy will seriously undermine this. The indirect land use impacts would convert some 17,000 km2 of natural habitats to grow biofuels, none protected under EU legislation, with the transition to cropland decreasing species abundance by some 85%.

[ This is about biofuels for road transport and power generation, but biofuels for aviation are linked, and aviation biofuels are likely to be derived from crops.]


7.11.2011 (Friends of the Earth International)

by Phil Lee

 Increasing the use of biofuels in Europe will have devastating impacts on wildlife a new scientific assessment has shown. The report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) estimates that 85% of biodiversity will be damaged across 17,000 square kilometres of natural habitats that risks being converted to farmland as a result of EU biofuel targets. None of this will be protected under current EU legislation for biofuels. After continual controversy and delay, EU chiefs are on the verge of deciding how to deal with the greenhouse gas emissions associated with ‘indirect land use change’ from expanding biofuels.

EU officials will tomorrow (Friday November 18) present their assessment of scientific studies, which have consistently shown that the negative impacts on global land use and the climate could reverse any benefits of biofuels. [2] Friends of the Earth Europe is calling for an urgent rethink of EU biofuel policy and an end to subsidies.

The EU has committed to halting biodiversity loss by 2020 – yet without reform, it’s biofuels policy will seriously undermine this commitment.

Commenting on the research, Robbie Blake, biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “Biofuels, once thought of as a solution, are pushing up food prices around the world, they’re making climate change worse, and it is now clear they could wipe out wildlife. “Continuing to expand biofuels for Europe’s cars is going to have a devastating impact on the biodiversity which is the very basis of our existence and is already disappearing at an alarming rate.

 “The pressure is on the European Commission to decide once and for all how to stop the damage caused by biofuels. It must face up to the facts that biofuels are a disaster for the climate, communities and wildlife.” The JRC research indicates that habitats in Brazil, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS – the former USSR countries) will be hardest hit: 

 “The extensive use of bioenergy crops will increase the rate in loss of biodiversity,” the JRC concludes. One such area, Brazil’s Cerrado – the most biodiverse savanna in the world – is already under pressure from expanding agriculture, with 54 species “red-listed” as endangered, including the Brazilian Big-eyed Bat, Giant Anteater, Pampas Cat and Maned Wolf.   


Bio-fuelling extinction

15.11.2011 (Friends of the Earth, UK)

New research confirms that EU biofuel targets will speed up the rate of extinction of plants and animals.  The negative impacts of the increasing demand for biofuels on food prices and their real impacts on the climate have attracted a lot of attention over the past couple of years. However what this means for biodiversity has only marginally being looked at, mostly as anecdotal evidence:  e.g. the threat to orangutans from expanding palm oil plantations.

But now the EU Commission has published a new report that forms part of its own impact assessment of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) from biofuel targets. (The one the EU has been holding under wraps for months amid rumours that publication could “kill the biofuels industry“) For the first time the report looks at the wider biodiversity impacts of indirect land use change from biofuel demand, modelling what habitats will ultimately be converted to make way for biofuels plantations.   

The result show that of converted habitats

– 42% would be forests (primary and managed)

– 42% would be pasture

– 16% would be savannah and grasslands

 In total 17,000 km2 of natural habitats could be converted to farmland as a result of demand for biofuels in the EU. None of this will be protected under current EU legislation for biofuels. The report concludes “the transition to cropland will cause an 85.3% decrease in the MSA (mean species abundance) index in affected areas. This result, in line with the conclusions of the GLOBIO3 study, shows that the extensive use of bioenergy crops will increase the rate in loss of biodiversity” This means for the first time the EU has openly confirmed our warnings that on top of doing little or nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions EU biofuel targets will also speed up species extinction. Please tell Energy Minister, Charles Hendry, to stop support for the use of biofuels and imported biomass in power stations.

Posted by Kenneth Richter  |  15 Nov 2011



further information

Read the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre report

The Summary of this report states:


This study follows the methodology developed by the JRC (2010) for estimating changes in
greenhouse gas emissions from global land use changes due to increased biofuels demand, and applies the methodology to the output of global modelling calculations run by the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

In particular, this report focuses on the scenario recently published by IFPRI1 that was based on the estimates of the National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) of the EU Member States. In this scenario, a total 1st generation biofuels blend of 8.7%, with a spread bioethanol/biodiesel of 22%-78% (NREAP “full mandate”) was assumed. In addition to the “full mandate”, marginal calculations for 8 different feedstocks were also carried out.

For completeness of the analysis on IFPRI scenarios carried out in JRC 2010 report, Appendix 1 also reports the results of the methodology as applied to another scenario (the “8.6% mandate”) published in the previous IFPRI report of 20102: this scenario assumes a biofuels (1st generation) blend in total fuel consumption in 2020 of 8.6% with a spread bioethanol/biodiesel of 60%-40%.

Based on the outcomes of IFPRI economic modeling in the “NREAPs scenario“, the increased biofuels demand will cause ILUC GHG emissions of about 36 gCO2/MJ. This result also includes emissions from peatland drainage due to oil palm plantations mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, which were not accounted in the original JRC methodology.

The estimated peat emissions in unit of energy are 19.8 gCO2/MJ, which represent the main contribution to total GHG emissions from LUC (about 55% of total emissions).
ILUC GHG emissions for 8 feedstocks (4 for ethanol and 4 for biodiesel) were also calculated. The results show that in general ethanol crops have lower ILUC impacts than oilseeds/biodiesel crops:
emissions for ethanol feedstocks range from about 4 to 20 gCO2/MJ, and for biodiesel feedstocks they range from about 36 to 60 gCO2/MJ. These JRC results are in line with the emissions calculated by IFPRI.

Compared to the new (2011) study, the previous (2010) economic analysis carried out by IFPRI gave much higher estimations of land use change due to 8.6% biofuels consumption in 2020 (“8.6% scenario”), resulting in GHG emissions of about 54 gCO2/MJ3. The contribution of peat emissions is about 3 gCO2/MJ, which corresponds to only 5% of total emissions. The low share is due to the very limited oil palm expansion in the previous IFPRI economic analysis.


Find out more about Friends of the Earth Europe’s agrofuels campaign