Although some forms of bioenergy can play a helpful role, dedicating land specifically for generating bioenergy is unwise, say WRI president Andrew Steer and director of food, forests and water, Craig Hanson.
Powering cars with corn and burning wood to make electricity might seem like a way to lessen dependence on fossil fuels and help solve the climate crisis. But although some forms of bioenergy can play a helpful role, dedicating land specifically for generating bioenergy is unwise. It uses land needed for food production and carbon storage, it requires large areas to generate just a small amount of fuel, and it won’t typically cut greenhouse gas emissions.
First, dedicating areas to bioenergy production increases competition for land.
Roughly three-quarters of the world’s vegetated land is already being used to meet people’s need for food and forest products, and that demand is expected to rise by 70 per cent or more by 2050. Much of the rest contains natural ecosystems that keep climate-warming carbon out of the atmosphere, protect freshwater supplies, and preserve biodiversity.
Because land and the plants growing on it are already generating these benefits, diverting land—even degraded, under-utilised areas—to bioenergy means sacrificing much-needed food, timber, and carbon storage.
Second, bioenergy production is an inefficient use of land.
While photosynthesis may do a great job of converting the sun’s rays into food, it is an inefficient way to turn solar radiation into non-food energy that people can use. Thus, it takes a lot of land (and water) to yield a small amount of fuel from plants. In a new working paper, WRI calculates that providing just 10 per cent of the world’s liquid transportation fuel in the year 2050 would require nearly 30 per cent of all the energy in a year’s worth of crops the world produces today. Continue reading “Biofuels are not a green alternative to fossil fuels”