Avoiding bioenergy competition for food crops and land
This working paper (PDF) from the World Resources Institute (WRI) shows that any dedicated use of land for growing bioenergy inherently comes at the cost of not using that land for growing food or animal feed, or for storing carbon. In the past decade, governments have pushed to increase the use of bioenergy—the use of recently living plants for energy—by using crops for transportation biofuels and increasingly by harvesting trees for power generation. Although increasing energy supplies has provided one motivation, the belief that bioenergy use will help combat climate change has been another. However, bioenergy that entails the dedicated use of land to grow the energy feedstock will undercut efforts to combat climate change and to achieve a sustainable food future. The authors recommend several policy changes to phase out forms of bioenergy that use crops or that otherwise make dedicated use of land: 1) the set targets for biofuels need to be phased-out and no new policies should be established; 2) Governments should switch from low-carbon fuel standards to other measures of encouraging purchases of electric or hydrogen cars; 3) Exclude whole trees or introduce greenhouse gas accounting for wood from renewable energy standards to discourage their burning for reaching renewable energy standards; 4) Kyoto does not include the greenhouse gas emissions from burning biomass, this “accounting error” should be fixed. It concludes that much of the case for bioenergy is grounded in technological optimism and that a more realistic optimism must recognize the inherent limitations in photosynthesis by plants that will keep bioenergy’s land-use efficiency low, even under the most optimistic scenarios.