Climate Change Conference Must Act On Biofuels

Published: Fri 17 Nov 2000 10:49 AM
The Ecologic Foundation is lobbying at the Climate Change Conference in The Hague this week for a breakthrough that will allow the world’s transport systems to shift from petroleum-based fuels to biofuels over the next few decades.
“Biofuels made from plantation-grown wood are a key ingredient in any low-emissions future for the world,” said Ecologic executive director Guy Salmon today.
“The conference is likely to allow countries which establish new forests to earn emission credits, but we want the negotiators to go one step further by requiring such credits to be linked to the development of innovative projects which use biofuels.
“If adopted, this biofuels obligation would drive forward the development of the technologies the world needs over the next decade.”
Mr Salmon said that to displace the need for oil, the world would need about 15,000 community-scaled forest plantations, each of about 12 km diameter.
But if biofuels were to be available in quantity by 2020, a global planting programme needed to begin urgently. Most of the planting would need to take place in developing countries, and be financed by rich countries.
“For the rich countries to simply take domestic action will not be sufficient to stabilize the global climate. We need to do far more than that.”
A summary of the paper being distributed by Ecologic at COP 6, the Climate Change Conference in The Hague, is attached. Dr Peter Read is representing Ecologic at the conference. For further information in New Zealand, please contact Guy Salmon on 025 201 3033.
· Numerous low emission scenarios have demonstrated that the Ultimate Objective of the FCCC cannot be achieved without establishing a large role for biofuel in the global energy economy by 2020. · Recent technological developments, as well as sustainable development criteria, favour growing biofuel in community-scale plantations of about 12 km in diameter, located between existing settlements, and associated with biofuel production plants. The main opportunities where suitable land is available are in developing countries. · Well-designed biofuels projects would have very significant sustainable development benefits for rural areas, including creation of rural employment, rural electricity supply, soil conservation and counter-desertification benefits. They should be locally planned and located, to optimize the meeting of local needs. · The initial growth period, prior to the first biofuel harvest, creates a carbon sink that should attract carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). These credits are crucial because they would yield cash flows to sustain communities through start-up, before there is product income. · The lead times involved in growing biofuels are so great that the inclusion of biofuel plantation sinks in the CDM in the first commitment period will be very necessary if the Convention’s Ultimate Objective is to be achieved. · There is some opposition to including plantation sinks in the first commitment period. We propose a strategy for resolving this issue. It involves participants in the debate first, focusing on the emissions reduction and sustainable development benefits of a biofuels strategy; and second, agreeing at COP 6 that an explicit link will be required between CDM plantation sink projects and investment projects for the development of biofuels production. · The most persuasive argument against sinks is the danger that low cost plantation sinks might be used to postpone domestic action in transforming energy sector technology. Linking plantation sinks to biofuels technology development and production would reverse this argument. · Establishing a biofuels obligation for plantation sink projects in the CDM would break down the barriers to entry that currently restrict biofuel technologies to niche markets. With the obligation in place, biofuel technology will, by the time the new plantations are ready for harvest, have had its costs pushed down the learning curve, to become more generally competitive with fossil fuel technology than it is now. · The most important spur to effective domestic action in transforming energy sector technology would be the negotiation of long term emission reductions commitments, at least through to mid-century, which provided for the contraction of global aggregate emissions. Such commitments would necessarily entail convergence toward an equitable distribution of allocated amounts. · Low emission scenarios imply 30 – 50 EJ of biofuel raw material in 2020. This needs time to grow and would require about 150 million ha of currently un-forested land to be devoted to biofuel plantations by around 2015.
· The creation of up to 15,000 community scaled plantations before 2015 involves training a corps of ‘barefoot merchant bankers’ able to initiate projects like merchant bankers do, but with sustainable development objectives rather than wholly commercial objectives. Their mission must include energizing NGO networks in the regions where suitable land is available, aiming for community control of, and participation in, the management of biofuel plantations. There are substantial capacity-building requirements.
COP 6 should require that each 100 tonnes of carbon credit from sink-enhancing plantation projects shall be linked to a proportionate biofuel-using project. This ‘biofuels obligation’ may be a few tonnes initially, but should increase as costs come down with experience.

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