Moving the biofuels sustainability debate out of the trenches


Publish date: March 24, 2011

ROTTERDAM – On the world biofuels markets conference's third day, one of the headers read “Biofuels NGO debate,” and Tone Knudsen was invited to represent Bellona Europa on the panel. Among the speakers were Craig Jamieson from the NGO Next Generation, who spoke before Pieter de Pous from EEB and Knudsen from Bellona.

Jamieson questioned whether many stakeholders are in fact afraid to engage in this debate? He alluded to the Greenpeace orangutans welcoming delegates outside the conference venue on the second day, showing how the debate tends to be ending in trench warfare.

“Controversy is inevitable,” Jamieson said, “even when production is sustainable. The NIMBY factor is just one example.”

bodytextimage_bilde-1.JPG Photo: Bellona

He argued that logic does not well counter emotional arguments – empathy must be used to build common ground.

“What if the biofuels industry could pay developing country farmers relatively small sums to quadruple their yields? A win-win for both food and fuels,” he said.

EEB’s de Pous pointed to the renewable energy action plans of the EU member states, assuming a 9.5 percent use of biofuels in the transport sector, and questioned whether GHG emission cuts can be proven when it comes to indirect land-use change (ILUC).

“The Commission must come up with a proposal for ILUC accounting, including strict conditions for exemptions from ILUC factor for waste,” de Pous argued.

Knudsen picked up on Jamieson’s words about the trench warfare, and said she was convinced that this should not be a debate only between civil society and industry.

“Researchers must take a strong part in this debate,” Knudsen argued. She then pointed to the sheer size of the climate issue, and the needs to share efforts in a fair way, meaning rich countries must go to zero emissions and beyond.

“Biomass is the key to get beyond zero emissions,” Knudsen said.

“The Bellona Scenario shows that no one solution can do the job, but it is possible to get to 85 percent emissions cuts. A significant proportion of the reductions must be reached with bio-CCS, giving negative emissions, and we must look for holistic approaches combining several technologies,” she said.

Knudsen challenged stakeholders to see that there should be one common goal: to be part of the climate solution. “If we can agree on that,” Knudsen said, “we can create arenas to find answers. The EU technology platforms could provide good arenas, so can the EBTP-ZEP joint taskforce on bio-CCS.”

The following Q&A session several industrial stakeholders voiced appreciation for Bellona’s approach, opening for dialogue without backing down on what must be the goal – to reduce GHG emissions.  De Pous pointed to the underlying problem behind the strong need to replace fossil fuels, namely humanity’s excessive (and growing) use of energy.

The debate moderator, Clifford Spencer from the United Nations Foundation wrapped up the session with a question to all: “Biofuels is a driver for developing countries – should they not be given a chance to develop it?”