Sources of energy derived from biological sources may reduce global dependence on fossil fuels that emit harmful gases, but they entail the use of large volumes of water and pose the risk of introducing undesirable crops into ecosystems, the U. N. Environment Programme warned in a report released Monday. The report, Accessing Biofuels,” recommends new planning and management approaches to balance the beneficial effects of the production of biofuels – which do not produce gases associated with climate change – with their environmental and social consequences.
“There is no doubt that we need to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and move to cleaner, more environmentally friendly options,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the program. “But we need to make sure we are not creating more problems than we solve.
“Biofuel production has risks and opportunities. We need to examine all the risks, so that we can take full advantage of the opportunities for emissions cuts, for new green jobs, and for raising the standards of living for some of the world’s poorest communities,” Steiner said.
According to the report, bioenergy development can have an impact on biodiversity on a number of levels, including directly through land-use change, the introduction of potentially invasive species for use in biofuel production, the overuse of water, and indirectly by pushing agricultural production into previously high-value conservation areas.
The agency cites research which shows that 2 per cent or 44 cubic kilometers of the global water withdrawals for irrigation are being used for bioenergy production, and notes that if current bioenergy standards and targets are fully implemented, a further 180 cubic kilometers of irrigation water would be needed.
The water demand would create additional pressure on water resources and potentially have an effect on food production and water supplies, especially in areas already experiencing water shortages, the report says..
In an issue paper published in the report, the agency argues that while many of the currently available biofuels are produced from existing food crops, some of the plant species being considered for advanced biofuels are potentially invasive.
The agency notes that the very qualities that make these plants ideal for biofuels – fast growth, ability to outperform local vegetation, abundant seed production, tolerance of and adaptability to a range of soil and climatic conditions, resistance to pests and diseases and lack of predators – mean they could become invasive in a given landscape.
Invasive species can cause serious damage to the environment, local livelihoods and economies, according to the report. It was released at the 10th conference of parties to U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity that is currently under way in the Japanese city of Nagoya.