Biofuel polices must ensure biodiversity is protected. That was the message from Fauna & Flora International’s Director of Business & Biodiversity Programme Pippa Howard at the recent BP Biofuels Sustainable Resilience Series.
Pippa was a panelist at the event titled ‘Low carbon UK: what role can biofuels play?’ which was held at the UK’s Royal Society and hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby.
Biofuels are fuels made from biomass, such as sugarcane, soya, wheat, corn, palm oil and other crops. The promotion of biofuels as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels has been hotly debated, with many environmental and social issues raised.
Though the event focused on the UK’s biofuel policies, it has global significance. The decisions made in one country inevitably have repercussions around the world.
Pippa acted as a strong voice for biodiversity, giving her expert analysis of the current situation. She raised two critical points in regards to biofuels and their impacts on ecosystem services – the services nature provides such as water provision, soil quality, pest control and climate mitigation.
Understanding the impacts
The first was that conversion of land in the developing world from agriculture to biofuel can impact on wildlife and landscapes, as well as negatively affecting food security in those countries.
British firms have acquired more land in Africa for controversial biofuel plantations than companies from any other country.
There is a need to understand the full life cycle of the UK’s biofuels – a cradle to grave impacts assessment accounting for ecosystem services, which are often excluded in traditional cost estimates.
Recognising the dependencies
The second point was that biofuel production is dependent on a functioning and healthy ecosystem services.
Unsustainable biofuel production can cause impacts such as fractured and failing ecosystems and the loss of ecological function resulting from land conversion. This poses serious financial risks to companies and communities growing biofuels, as well as investors.
There needs to be stronger economic drivers to influence the biofuel sector to manage its risks associated with dependencies on biodiversity. This may be best done via the investor community.
Over 150 people attended the BP Biofuels Sustainable Resilience Series event, representing key decision makers from environmental NGOs, businesses, government bodies, academia and farming communities.
Fauna & Flora International is committed to actively participating in the global dialogues on biofuel. We are applying our expertise in conservation and private sector engagement to encourage the sustainable production of biofuels.