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Biofuel produced in Africa destined for Europe result in up to six times the carbon emissions of fossil fuels

By Helen Roddis - 23 Mar 2011 8:41:1 GMT
Biofuels may not be as green as you might think - new study sheds light on 'con'

Biofuels produced in Africa but destined for use in Europe will result in up to six times the carbon emissions of fossil fuels, according to a new report.

Commissioned by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), ActionAid, and Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner), the report focuses primarily on a region of Kenya called the Dakatcha Woodlands, which are set to be destroyed to make way for jatropha biofuel plantations.

Some species of the succulent Jatropha genus are widely promoted as easily grown crops, and oil from the seeds is used extensively in many developing countries to produce biofuel.

However, the new report contradicts the 'green image' of biofuels, which are widely considered to be a renewable alternative to fossil fuels.

Taking into account the emissions produced throughout the production process, the report found that plantations of jatropha would emit between 2.5 and 6 times more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

Before the publication of this latest study, no government had carried out a proper assessment to determine the effect of importing biofuels on reducing carbon emissions. Crucially, the study in the Dakatcha Woodlands also highlights other serious consequences of the rising demand.

Located in a global biodiversity hotspot, the Dakatcha Woodlands are one of the last remaining coastal forests in Kenya. They provide sanctuary to the regions wildlife, including a number of the world's threatened species. They are also home to over 20,000 indigenous tribespeople, and allowing the plantation would create huge social upheaval, with minority tribes being removed from their ancestral lands, destroying both livelihoods and sacred burial sites.

Although just one example, the Dakatcha Woodlands report demonstrates the disastrous but unseen impact of biofuels. Far from being the 'miracle cure for climate change' that was once expected, the rising demand for biofuel is only likely to continue, and with it will come more problems.

Biofuel currently makes up around 3.5% of the petrol and diesel in UK fuel pumps, but the UK government wants this figure to increase, to meet new EU targets.

The rising European demand for biofuel largely stems from the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), a new piece of European Union legislation which requires 10 per cent of transport to be renewable by 2020. This target could result in biofuel use in Europe doubling by 2020, as member states strive to conform to EU aims.