BRUSSELS Four leaked European Union documents cast new light on the risks to the environment from the EU's strategy to promote biofuels.
Here are some of the findings:
IS INDIRECT LAND-USE CHANGE SIGNIFICANT?
Commission Scientific Workshop, Italy: "The experts unanimously agreed that, even when uncertainties are high, there is strong evidence that the indirect land-use change effect is significant."
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) study:
"This report confirms that emissions related to land use changes driven by biofuel policies are a serious concern. Nearly half of the expected gains of shifting from fossil fuels to renewable biofuels disappear.
CAN WE RANK THE IMPACT OF DIFFERENT BIOFUELS?
IFPRI study for the EU:
"Ethanol feedstocks have a lower land use change effect than the biodiesel feedstocks. For ethanol, sugar beet has the lowest land use emission coefficients. Sugar cane has the highest."
"Among vegetable oil, sunflower appears to be the best feedstock in terms of the land use change emissions, compared to soybean which has the highest."
"Net savings are only achieved by ethanol crops under default technologies; under high efficiency technology, only sugar and sugar beet reach a 50 percent saving coefficient against fossil fuel over a 20 year period."
"Despite all uncertainties, our findings confirm the hierarchy between ethanol and biodiesel in terms of land use change. Therefore, promoting a larger share of ethanol than the current projection will be meaningful."
European Commission internal figures for total CO2 impact:
(In grams of CO2 per megajoule of energy, compared to fossil fuel at 83.8 grams)
Palm oil 105g, Soybean 103g, Rapeseed 95g, Sunflower 86g, Wheat 47-64g, Corn 43g, Sugarbeet 34g, Sugarcane 36g, Cellulosic ethanol 9g.
HOW MUCH IS THE IMPACT MITIGATED BY USING BY-PRODUCTS?
Biofuels producers argue that grain or seed residues from biofuel production can be fed to animals, reducing the need to grow that feed on cropland and reducing overall land pressure.
Commission Scientific Workshop, Italy: "Models...showed that by-products from the production of ethanol save 30-35 percent of total extra crop production, and for EU biodiesel 55-61 percent. This is significant as the by-products are often used for animal feed...thus reducing land use change."
DO BIOFUELS REALLY DIVERT FOOD FROM THE HUNGRY?
Commission Scientific Workshop, Italy: "Reduced food consumption is an important market response to increased biofuels production... Any decline in consumption can have a severe impact for households that are already malnourished."
IFPRI study for EU:
"The analysis also shows an increase in price for the biofuels crops, especially for oilseed, due to the strong biodiesel component in the mandate."
HOW WILL FARMERS RESPOND TO INCREASING PRESSURE ON LAND?
Commission Workshop in Italy:
"In order to meet both biofuel and food demand increases without land expansion between now and 2020, it would be necessary to double the rate of yield increase for cereals...oilseeds, sugar crops and palm oil would need even greater increases in yields."
Commission Impact Assessment:
"Recent studies suggest that tropical forests were the primary source of new agricultural land in 1980s-90s"
IFPRI study for EU:
"Pasture and managed forest represent the two major sources of cropland extension, followed by savannah and grasslands, and finally primary forest."
(Reporting by Pete Harrison; editing by Keiron Henderson)