Could Biofuels Worsen Deforestation? A New Report Reveals Potential Harm Of ‘Eco-Friendly’ Alternative

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A new report looking at the impact of global biofuel policies finds that the shift to biofuels could lead to 7 million hectares of deforestation by 2030. The analysis says that much of the demand will come from the aviation industry, which is currently scrambling for alternative fuel sources in a bid to become more “eco-friendly”. It reveals that using biofuels could cause more harm to the environment, and in fact increase carbon emissions by 11.5 billion tonnes. 

The Rainforest Foundation Norway has just released a new report on biofuels, which finds that the increasing demand for palm oil and soy-based biofuels in the coming decades will increase the risk of tropical deforestation. Much of this demand will come from the aviation industry, as a number of major airlines begin switching to biofuels in a bid to decrease their carbon footprint. 

According to the analysis, this demand will increase the production of palm oil by 61 million tonnes, and soy oil by 41 million tonnes. To meet this demand, almost 7 million hectares of tropical forests face deliberate land clearing and 3.6 million hectares will be subject to peat drainage. 

Author of the report, renowned biofuels expert Dr Chris Malins warns that this trend “has to change, and fast” before massive ecological damage is done to our remaining forests, which represent a crucial resource for the world to absorb greenhouse gases that drive the climate emergency

In contradiction to helping to slash emissions, swapping fossil fuels for another problematic commodity will in fact help to fuel global heating and mass biodiversity loss. Due to additional deforestation associated with producing biofuels, the report says that global carbon dioxide emissions will increase by 11.5 billion tonnes – which is more than China’s current annual emissions that are related to  burning fossil fuels

In a statement, Laura Buffet, the energy director of clean transport NGO Transport & Environment said: “Biofuels were supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but this is not what’s happening in reality. If decision-makers don’t avoid crop biofuels and especially high-risk feedstock like palm oil and soy, biofuel policies risk adding fuel to the current forest fires around the world.”

The findings shed light on the problematic nature of recent commitments made by airline companies to shift away from using fossil diesel jet fuel. Delta Air Lines, for instance, has recently pledged to going “fully carbon neutral” from this March onwards, and a core part of the plan is to increase the share of biofuels powering its aircrafts. British Airways has made similar commitments to invest in more biofuels alongside its plan to eliminate 700 million tonnes of single-use plastic this year.

Rainforest Foundation Norway’s report was published soon after another scientific study warned about the decline of our forests. The study said that due to sustained damage from deforestation by loggers, commodities and animal agriculture interests and the impact of the climate crisis, tropical forests are losing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere

At the current rate, the Amazon rainforest – the world’s largest rainforest – could become a source of greenhouse gas emissions within the next 10 years. If this happens, climate disasters will become much more deadly and frequent than previously thought. 


Lead image courtesy of Wired / Andrew Hetherington.


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