Reducing the impact of biofuels on the environment and local communities

26 August 2010 | News story

Energy company Shell and sugar giant Cosan have announced a partnership to produce biofuels from Brazilian sugarcane. IUCN will work through its partnership with Shell to ensure that the impact of these operations on local communities and nature are minimised.

Biofuels have come under criticism in recent years over concerns that they convert important conservation land into intensive agriculture, displace vulnerable groups of people and increase food prices. However, ethanol and biodiesel remain among the most viable short term options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector. Sugarcane ethanol, produced with sustainability standards such as those set out by the Better Sugarcane Initiative and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, reduces greenhouse gas emissions more than most other biofuels. Poorly planned expansion of sugarcane production, not respecting these standards can lead to changes in land use which negate all of those greenhouse gas emission reductions. Expansion of agricultural plantations for biofuels can also have disastrous consequences for biodiversity and people.

IUCN is focusing efforts on ways to ensure that sustainability issues are addressed, including reducing the negative environmental impacts of changes in land use and that the needs of indigenous communities in particular, who may not have secure land rights over traditional territories, aren’t overlooked.

IUCN is encouraged to hear that Shell and Cosan have agreed to commit to robust assessments of potential direct and indirect impacts of any expansions and to ensuring feedstock is not procured from land recognised as having a high conservation value in or after January 2008, as part of the sustainability principles for the Joint Venture.

Editor’s notes:

The Better Sugarcane Initiative calls for the law to be obeyed; human rights and labour standards to be respected; input, production and processing efficiencies to be managed to enhance sustainability; biodiversity and ecosystem services to be actively managed; and continuous improvement in key areas of the sugarcane business.
For more information about the Better Sugarcane Initiative: www.bettersugarcane.org

For more information about the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels: http://energycenter.epfl.ch/page65660.html