OECD report finds that lowering energy consumption is better than biofuels for reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Well, now that was obvious, was it not... How much did this study cost?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

According to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), entitled "Economic Assessment of Biofuel Support Policies", not only is public support of biofuels costly, it also has very little impact on reducing “greenhouse gas” emissions.

All the tax incentives, blending targets and other public support policies in the European Union, the US, and Canada total $25 billion per year but will ultimately result in less than a 1% reduction in emissions from transport by 2015, according to the OECD report.

The benefits of biofuels are very often more than overstated

The OECD said that if Brazil’s ethanol produced from sugar cane cuts greenhouse gas emissions by around 80%, biofuels from feedstocks in the United States, the EU or Canada tend to have a far lower environmental benefit. Biodiesel from vegetable oil cuts greenhouse emissions by around 40-55% and ethanol from corn…generally cuts them by less than 30%.”

The worst offender in this list, biodiesel from palm oil, according to some estimates actually increases greenhouse gas emissions compared to ordinary diesel by 800%, and in addition possibly contributes to Orangutan extinction in the wild.

Lowering energy consumption is by far a better solution than biofuels

In its recommendations, the OECD says that governments should offer more support for second generation biofuel feedstocks that don’t use food crops, but more importantly, policies designed to reduce overall energy consumption should receive more funding.

A study recently has also shown that instead of lowering and reducing CO2 and other emissions biofuels can actually make matters worse. Therefore, we need to look at new sources and also at old ways of transport. Yes, I did say, OLD ways, and this includes especially the bicycle and the horse and mule.

From the report’s policy recommendations,

A priority focus, said the mentioned report, needs to be given to reducing energy consumption. This is especially important in the transport sector where the growth in energy use and related environmental problems is most pronounced. In particular, this includes the gradual move from highly energy intensive modes of transport to less intensive ones, and improvement in fuel efficiency in all transport sectors. Generally the costs of reducing GHG emissions by saving energy are lower than by switching to alternative energy sources, in particular biofuels.

While this is being said by the OECD the UK government still supports the 10 percent target by 2020 but wants the indirect effects of biofuels to be part of the sustainability criteria, and the UK wants a rigorous review of the target in 2013-2014.

Why this continuing support of the 10 percent target? One can only assume that jobs and money is at stake here, and votes and promises of investment here and there.

Essentially, in the report, the OECD is recommending that government embrace the factor that energy efficiency is crucial for combating climate change and for making renewable energy technologies most effective.

A recent World Bank report estimated that, alongside drought and speculation, biofuels derived from crops such as grains, oil seeds and sugar were responsible for up to three quarters of recent hikes in food prices which have hurt the world's poorest.

Global demand for agricultural land would soar by 2020 meaning in future all biofuel demand must come from marginal land, including use of hi-tech fuels derived from waste like straw and wood chips instead of food. Other sources could be, as apparently the Brazilians have pioneered, ethanol from grass clippings. Then there also is good old methane, as a gas, which could be cerated in methane digesters.

We also, as I have already stated, must get away form the overuse, and overuse it indeed is, of the motor car for transportation.

Why does anyone have to use the car to pop round to the corner shop for the newspaper or that packet of cigarettes? Why do the children have to be taken to school by car, seeing the school is only a block away?

Yes, I am a cyclist and do not even own a motorcar. I do not even have a driver's license. So, I know that people might think me biased as regards to the car but that is not the case. It is the needless use that I am against.

I am also against the needless use of other motorized operations when human-powered would do nicely. We must liberate ourselves from the over-reliance on gasoline or diesel powered appliances and vehicles. While there is a case for such appliances and vehicles, etc. at times, there are more often than not occasions where starting up the lawnmower or the car would take longer than doing it in a more old-fashioned way.

We must reduce our energy consumption, and that on a number of levels. The survival of mankind, to a great degree, depends on this. Do we want food or fuel? We must decide.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008