UN on biofuels — implications and tradeoffs

The United Nations has just published a report that sets out some of the challenges and implications of the widespread production of biofuels. And it’s a pretty good effort in asking the right questions and recognizing that there are tradeoffs involved in the push for biofuels.

Titled “Sustainable Bioenergy: A Framework for Decision Makers,” the report focuses on the impact of bioenergy development on such issues as food security, the structure of agriculture, trade, foreign exchange balances, and energy security, as well as biodiversity and climate change.

Yet, nothing human or ecological is straightforward. And so it is with biofuels, perhaps particulary liquid biofuels. Will biofuels push out food crops, raise food prices, and exacerbate food security? Will biofuels create unexpected negative rather than positive external environmental effects? Could biofuels even exacerbate the impact on climate when the entire production chain is taken into account? How will increased investment in biofuels affect trade patterns? What would a sustainable approach to bioenergy look like? These questions need to be addressed.