Nagoya 2010: Weighing up the risks and benefits of biofuels development
Water, land use change and invasive species are key factors
that must be addressed alongside greenhouse gas cuts
Nagoya, Japan, 25 October 2010 - Water could determine the degree to which bioenergy can contribute to combating climate change by reducing the world's reliance on fossil fuels, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said in an Issue Paper presented at the Convention on Biodiversity meeting (CBD COP10) in Nagoya, Japan, today.
Increasing water demand for biofuels production in areas where water is already scarce could increase environmental and social pressures, the paper entitled Water and Bioenergy, stated.
Bioenergy development can have an impact on biodiversity on a number of levels: by changing land-use, introducing invasive species for use in biofuel production, overusing water and pushing agricultural production into areas with high conservation value (indirect land use change). But there can be beneficial impacts as well: for instance, replacement of firewood use can decrease deforestation.
A joined-up approach to bioenergy development, one that balances greenhouse gas emissions with impacts on biodiversity, water and food security, is needed. Proper planning and management will be essential at the national level, as well as in individual projects.
"There is no doubt that we need to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and move to cleaner, more environmentally friendly options, but we need to make sure we are not creating more problems than we solve" said Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and UNEP Executive Director.
"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," he added.
UNEP spells out some of those considerations in four issues papers circulated today, which compliment a landmark report-Accessing Biofuels- launched last year by the UNEP-hosted International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management.
In Water and Bioenergy, the second in the bioenergy paper series, UNEP cites research which shows that two per cent, or 44 km3, of the global water withdrawals for irrigation are being used for bioenergy production.