The science and policy behind biofuels
On December 4, GMF hosted an event on biofuels policies, present the latest science on the subject, and explore space for consensus among the participants. The event brought together high level representatives from seventeen environmental organizations that are key stakeholders working on the issue. In addition to the event, GMF also released a policy brief by Tim Searchinger summarizing recent scientific reports on the impact of biofuels (available for download below).
The event began with a series of presentations by prominent scientists exploring different aspects and impacts of current and proposed policies. Lee Lynd of Dartmouth University gave a presentation laying out his case for biofuels as a "non-discretionary part of a low carbon transportation sector." Lynd outlined the prospects for second generation cellulosic biofuels and urged for a global study looking at the issues. Robert Edwards, from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre's Renewable Energies Unit, outlined the latest report published by the center. Edwards covered the green house gas emissions, impact on food prices, displaced emission, and the supply of waste for second generation production. An important conclusion drawn from this study was that, due to land limitations in Europe, most increased biofuels production resulting from mandates would occur outside of the EU. Chris Field, from the Carnegie Institute for Science at Stanford University, focused on specific threats that biofuels production causes to climate, biodiversity, and rural lifestyles. In his presentation, he points out that the intense hype and expectation that surrounded biofuels has contributed to the difficult policy versus science problem that we are currently experiencing. Rich Plevin of University of California, Berkeley, presented his findings on the uncertainties and challenges associated with modeling the effects of indirect land-use change. Lastly, GMF Transatlantic Fellow Tim Searchinger presented his work on the issue on indirect land use change. Tim also served as moderator for the discussion and helped to tie together the vast amount of information that was presented.
Searchinger facilitated an open discussion amongst the group, drawing upon the information from the earlier presentations. The goal was to allow the participants to discuss the issues and explore common ground. While views initially varied, the group eventually reached a consensus that no biofuels production that competed with food and forest should be supported. The input of Ariel Brunner, from Birdlife International in Brussels, allowed the group to better understand the road that the European environmental community took to reach the level of agreement that they have achieved. It was decided that a joint statement would be written stemming from the meeting, with Friends of the Earth taking the coordinating lead. Moving forward, GMF hopes to continue support efforts to better understand the potential benefits and dangers of increased biofuels production.