JNCC commissioned report highlights Indirect Land Use Change impacts on Biodiversity worldwide

 

Deforestation in Brazilian Pantanal Clear cutting for agriculture in Pantanal (Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil)@Lanthilda/Dreamstime.com JNCC commissioned the UNEP-WCMC to analyse the impacts of indirect land use change on biodiversity caused by biofuel production. The report – titled Indirect Land Use Change from biofuel production: implications for biodiversity – is now available and highlights a so far little understood threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services. To date, indirect land use change has mostly been discussed as a problem in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but as the report shows it also has major implications for biodiversity and ecosystems worldwide.

 

Attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector have led to political and financial incentives to increase the use of biofuel in transport fuels. A target set in 2008 at a European Summit requires the UK and other EU member states to source 10% of their transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020. In effect this means a 10% biofuel target since other technologies are not yet commercially available.

 

Direct impacts of unsustainable biofuel production on biodiversity and ecosystem services, including habitat loss, drainage of wetlands, increased agro-chemical use, water abstraction and impacts on soil and air quality are fairly well understood and researched. However, a new and little understood threat to biodiversity has recently emerged: the impact that indirect land use change (ILUC) has on biodiversity and ecosystems around the world. ILUC occurs when for example, a farmer switches his production of arable crops or livestock to energy crops to fulfil the new demand for bioenergy. The demand for arable crops and livestock still exists and may be met through clearing new land to accommodate the crops or livestock, possibly in a different part of the world.

 

Estimates suggest that the European biofuels target could lead to ILUC of between 4.1. and 6.9 Mha by 2020 globally, in additon to the estimated 33 Mha that are already used for bioenergy production1.  For comparrison the UK has about 5 Mha of arable land.

 

The conversion of so much extra land will not only create additonal greenhouse gas emissions but will also have major implications for gloabl biodiversity and ecosystems.

 

1 Latest figures available are for 2008. Fargione, J.E., Plevin, R.J., Hill, J.D. 2010. The Ecological Impact of Biofuels. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 41, 351-377.