New study reveals biofuels carbon con

By RSPB, Tue, 22/03/2011 - 13:53
African biofuels destined for Europe will result in up to six times the carbon emissions of fossil fuels, a new study has revealed. The report, commissioned by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), ActionAid and Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner), focuses on the Dakatcha Woodlands in Kenya which are set to be destroyed to make way for jatropha plantations. Campaigners say the results of the study make a mockery of claims that biofuels are a green, renewable alternative to fossil fuels. Biofuel currently makes up around 3.5% of the petrol and diesel in UK fuel pumps. However, the UK Government wants to increase this to meet EU targets. The Dakatcha Woodlands is one of the last remaining coastal forests in Kenya and is home to thousands of indigenous tribespeople who will be made homeless if the plans go ahead, as well as a range of threatened wildlife. Dr Helen Byron, RSPB’s Kenya expert, said: “The Dakatcha Woodlands are a haven for wildlife and the threat they face is a direct result of European demand for biofuels. No government has done a proper assessment of biofuels imported from overseas to see if they will, in fact, reduce our carbon emissions – so we decided to do it for them. “We were shocked to discover that the biofuel produced from the proposed plantations at Dakatcha will result in up to six times more carbon emissions than fossil fuels.” Tim Rice, ActionAid’s biofuels expert, said: “Biofuels are far from the miracle climate cure they were thought to be. Like most other biofuels, jatropha could actually end up increasing carbon emissions. “Crucially the Dakatcha case also shows how biofuel plantations can create huge social upheaval with whole communities losing their land, homes and jobs.” Dr Byron continued: “The proposed plantation in Dakatcha is just one example of the disastrous but unseen impact of biofuels on the climate, nature and people – there are plenty more coming to light all the time. “The UK Government recognises the problems that subsidising biofuels is causing across the world and last week announced that it intends to limit such subsidies. But ministers must go further, they must challenge the European targets for biofuels and instead adopt an ambitious programme to reduce emissions from cars through improving efficiency and a massive roll-out of electric vehicles.”

Fischer's Turaco (Doug Janson)

Taking into account the emissions produced throughout the production process, the study found that jatropha would emit between 2.5 and 6 times more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels. Much of the biofuel produced in Dakatcha is destined for Europe because of new European Union targets. The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) requires 10 per cent of transport to be renewable by 2020 and most member states plan to meet this almost entirely through biofuels – which is likely to result in a doubling of biofuel use in Europe by 2020. The Dakatcha Woodlands is home to over 20,000 people and is the ancestral land of the indigenous minority Watha and Giriama tribes. The plantation will not only evict the tribes from their land, but will destroy their livelihoods and sacred burial sites. The area is also a global biodiversity hotspot and home to a number of globally threatened animal and bird species including the spectacular Fischer's Turaco Tauraco fischeri, Southern Banded Snake-eagle Circaetus fasciolatus, Sokoke Scop-owl Otus ireneae, and  Sokoke Pipit Anthus sokokensis. Clarke’s Weaver Ploceus golandi is found in only two places on earth and is threatened with extinction if the plantation goes ahead.

Europe and Central Asia


Hi So if the Dakatcha Woodlands were to be converted to maize production to fulfill national food security concerns or needs, I presume RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), ActionAid and Nature Kenya would have no problem? It really gets me irritated by statements or publications like the one being announced in this release damming biofuels as they are not 'green'. What is RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), ActionAid and Nature Kenya position about the 8m ha of rubber grown globally (and increasing at an average of 120,000 ha a year) which is predominately used for car tyres or the 2.5m ha of tea (you know that essential part of Europe's diet)? It would seem logical to assume you have problems with using a plant based fuel, but have no problem using a plant based product to roll your car along the road? Industrial crop production is the sector to blame (and investigate and regulate) not just one particular plant or plant use. If I understand your argument right, it's that the proponents of biofuels are saying they are green but you have shown them to be wrong? They are therefore lying. So it's the public relations part of the biofuel proponents that's the problem? If they didn't try to portray biofuel as 'green' then presumably you'd have no problem with biofuels? Is this why you don't campaign against Goodyear or Pirelli as they never say their tyres are green or sustainably produced? Or Lipton as they never say their tea is 'green' or sustaianble produced? Rex

If the Dakatcha Woodlands were to be converted to maize production to fulfil national food security concerns or needs we would still have serious concerns. A key issue for us is the location of the proposed project, not only the nature of the proposed crop. Dakatcha Woodlands has been identified as an ‘Important Bird Area’ (IBA) as it is home to a number of globally threatened birds such as the southern banded snake eagle, Fischer’s turaco, Sokoke scops owl, Sokoke pipit and Clarke’s weaver. Clarke’s weaver is found in only two places on Earth: Dakatcha Woodland and Arabuko‐ Sokoke Forest to the south. Clarke’s weaver probably nests in Dakatcha Woodland, although its nest has never been found. This site is therefore of critical conservation value to Kenya and the world. Without Dakatcha Woodland, Clarke’s weaver would become extinct. BirdLife regularly campaigns to protect IBAs from inappropriate developments of many different kinds – including built development, mining and agricultural expansion. This is not to say we are anti-development but believe that development in IBAs should be sustainable and be planned with proper regard for the biodiversity value of the site. Hence unless we were convinced that a national food production project was justified in an IBA after a rigorous planning process eg after strategic consideration of a range of possible locations we would also oppose such a scheme.

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