Biofuel Crops Hurt Rain Forests
- Jane Goodall Says Biofuel Crops Hurt Rain Forests
Friday 28 September 2007
New York - Primate scientist Jane Goodall said on Wednesday the
race to grow crops for vehicle fuels is damaging rain forests in Asia,
Africa and South America and adding to the emissions blamed for global
"We're cutting down forests now to grow sugarcane and palm oil for
biofuels and our forests are being hacked into by so many interests
that it makes them more and more important to save now," Goodall said
on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative, former US President
Bill Clinton's annual philanthropic meeting.
As new oil supplies become harder to find, many countries such as
Brazil and Indonesia are racing to grow domestic sources of vehicle
fuels, such as ethanol from sugarcane and biodiesel from palm nuts.
The United Nations' climate program considers the fuels to be low
in carbon because growing the crops takes in heat-trapping gas carbon
But critics say demand for the fuels has led companies to cut down
and burn forests in order to grow the crops, adding to heat-trapping
emissions and leading to erosion and stress on ecosystems.
"Biofuel isn't the answer to everything; it depends where it comes
from," she said. "All of this means better education on where fuels
are coming from are needed."
Goodall said the problem is especially bad in the Indonesian rain
forest where large amounts of palm nut oil is being made. Growers in
Uganda - where her nonprofit group works to conserve Great Apes - are
also looking to buy large parcels of rain forest and cut them down to
grow sugar cane, while in Brazil, forest is cleared to grow sugar cane.
The Goodall Institute is working with a recently formed group of
eight rain forest nations called the Forest Eight, or F8, led by
Indonesia. The group wants to create a system where rich countries
would pay them not to chop down rain forests and hopes to unveil the
plan at climate talks in Bali in December.
Scientists from the forested countries are trying to nail down
exactly how much carbon dioxide the ecosystems store, but the amount
has been estimated to be about double that which is already in the
atmosphere, Goodall said.
Go to Original
Many Biofuels Have More Climate Impact Than Oil
By Emma Graham-Harrison
Friday 28 September 2007
Beijing - Most crops grown in the United States and Europe to make
"green" transport fuels actually speed up global warming because of
industrial farming methods, says a report by Nobel prize winning
chemist Paul J. Crutzen.
The findings could spell particular concern for alternative fuels
derived from rapeseed, used in Europe, which the study concluded could
produce up to 70 percent more planet-warming greenhouse gases than
The study suggested scientists and farmers focused on crops, which
required less intensive farming methods, to produce better benefits
for the environment.
Biofuels are derived from plants which absorb the planet-warming
greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as they grow, and so are meant as a
climate-friendly alternative to fossil fuels.
But the new study shows that some biofuels actually release more
greenhouse gases than they save, because of the fertiliser used in
modern farming practices.
The problem greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, is more famous as the
dentists' anaesthetic "laughing gas," and is about 300 times more
insulating than the commonest man-made greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
"The nitrous oxide emission on its own can cancel out the overall
benefit," co-author Professor Keith Smith told Reuters in a phone
The results, published in "Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Discussions," were based on the finding that fertiliser use on farms
was responsible for three to five times more such greenhouse gas
emissions than previously thought.
They cast further doubts on the credibility of biofuels as a
climate cure, following the revelation of other unintended side
effects such as rainforest clearance and raised food prices, from
competition with forests and food for land. Brazil and the United
States produce most of the world's bioethanol, as a substitute for
gasoline, while the European Union is the main supplier of biodiesel.
Using biodiesel derived from rapeseed would produce between 1 and
1.7 times more greenhouse gas than using conventional diesel, the
Biofuels derived from sugar cane, as in Brazil, fared better,
producing between 0.5 and 0.9 times as much greenhouse gases as
gasoline, it found.
Maize is the main biofuels feedstock used in the United States,
and produced between 0.9 and 1.5 times the global warming effect of
conventional gasoline, it said.
"As it's used at the moment, bioethanol from maize seems to be a
pretty futile exercise," Smith said.
The study did not account for the extra global warming effect of
burning fossil fuels in biofuel manufacture, or for the planet-cooling
effect of using biofuel by-products as a substitute for coal in
"Even if somebody decides that our numbers are too big ... if you
add together the undoubted amount of nitrous oxide that is formed,
plus the fossil fuel usage, with most of the biofuels of today you are
not going to get any benefit," Smith said.
However, the study did not condemn all biofuels, suggesting that
scientists and farmers should focus on crops needing little
fertiliser, and harvesting methods that were not energy intensive.
"In future if you use low nitrogen demanding crops, and low impact
agriculture, then we could get a benefit," Smith said.
The study singled out grasses and woody coppice species - like
willows and poplars - as crops with potentially more favourable
impacts on the climate.
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