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Research Report

A global analysis of deforestation due to biofuel development

Yan Gao
Margaret Skutsch
Omar Masera
Pablo Pacheco
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2011
Pages: 100
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    Biofuels have been produced on a commercial scale for many years, but political decisions made mainly in Europe and the United States to increase biofuel use are inducing a sharp increase in demand. In addition, growing attention to rising GHG emissions and the resultant global warming, combined with unstable and surging petroleum prices, is pushing biofuel as an alternative to gasoline and diesel in the transportation sector. Nonetheless, plans for further massive increases in biofuel production to replace fossil fuels have been contested in various ways. Since biofuel production takes up some lands under agricultural production¹, a major debate is...

  2. (pp. 3-5)

    The term ‘biofuel’, as used in this report, refers to liquid fuels derived from biological material, used mainly, though not exclusively, for transport (Dossche and Ozinga 2008). Ethanol and biodiesel are the two main liquid biofuel types. First generation biofuels refer to current mainstream fuels made from sugars, starches, animal fats or vegetable oils using conventional technology; second generation biofuels are usually made from lingocellulosic fibres such as wood and agricultural waste, using advanced technical processes; third generation biofuels refer to biodiesel from algae (Dossche and Ozinga 2008). In this report we use interchangeably ‘biofuel development’ and ‘biofuel feedstocks development’....

  3. (pp. 6-14)

    Assessing the implications of biofuel development on land use change, and specifically on deforestation, poses several methodological challenges. Four challenges are particularly relevant and will be addressed in this paper. The first relates to data availability and quality on recent deforestation, figures at the global level, biofuel data on the geographical location of feedstock plantations, and production levels. The second relates to the multipurpose nature of feedstocks since most are used for both food and fuel consumption (for example, soya, which is used for food or cattle feed, and biodiesel production). The third is linked to the land use implications...

  4. (pp. 15-21)

    From a spatial point of view, trying to match areas of biofuel production to deforestation presents scale and resolution challenges. In order to analyse the spatial correlation between deforestation and biofuel development, these two types of data need to be adjusted and presented at the same scale and with the same resolution. The deforestation data is area based and georeferenced, but the biofuel development data available are essentially either point data, as in the case of biofuel plants, or on the basis of administrative units, ranging from national to provincial levels. Expert knowledge is needed to identify particular locations of...

  5. (pp. 22-25)

    In addition to deforestation directly caused by forest clearance to establish biofuel feedstocks, indirect clearance often takes place when agricultural activities are displaced to forested areas, causing deforestation elsewhere.

    ILUC (indirect Land Use Change) occurs when crops or land that would have otherwise been used for producing food or animal feed are used for growing biofuels, and existing agricultural production geographically shifts to new land areas created by converting natural areas (Croezen et al. 2010). ILUC often also works through the pricing mechanism, as the increased demand for biofuels drives up prices of agricultural commodities, which then increases the pressure...

  6. (pp. 26-28)

    Common sense indicates that expansion of any cropping, for example for biofuels, is likely to result in some level of deforestation, either directly or indirectly. Our analysis so far has been at the global level and our conclusions, after a detailed review of scholarly work on the topic, are that it is not possible at this level to quantify the relationship, for methodological reasons; both the data and the analytic capacity to assess, spatially correlate or model the relationship between these processes are lacking.

    We therefore now turn to the analysis of individual biofuel hotspots, to determine whether at this...

  7. (pp. 29-29)

    Second generation biofuels are being actively promoted at the international level as a way to solve some of the environmental and social concerns raised by first generation biofuels, such as those examined in this report. Of particular interest for our study on deforestation are second generation biofuels that come from woody biomass. These fuels are expected to be commercially viable in the coming 5–10 years, raising a new set of challenges and opportunities for the forest sector.

    Specific challenges to be addressed with regards to deforestation and second generation biofuels, in addition to those present with first generation biofuels,...

  8. (pp. 30-31)

    This initial study indicates that the relationship between biofuel development and tropical deforestation is complex, and very difficult to detect and quantify at the global level. A quantification of the problem is precluded by limited data availability, lack of time series with sufficient resolution at global scale, the multipurpose nature of many feedstocks where biofuels are only part of a larger production system devoted also to food and fodder, and the very recent boost to biofuel production in most regions. In addition, deforestation is not only directly caused by biofuel establishment, but also has indirect effects, which take effect across...