UN urges caution over biofuels

United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon has acknowledged a growing concern over the environmental effects of biofuels. Speaking in Brazil, Ban Ki-moon said:

“Some fear that land currently used to grow food will instead be turned over to fuel. Others worry that forests will be cut down to make way for biomass plantations. Still more worry about the effects on the environment and biodiversity.”“Clearly, biofuels have great potential for good and, perhaps, also for harm. It is up to national governments to responsibly balance the social costs and benefits.”


Achim Steiner of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that biofuels may be adding to the problem of climate change rather than alleviating it. Speaking on BBC Radio Four, Steiner said that increased demand for fuel crops had led to vast swathes of rain forest being destroyed and that international standards should be drawn up to protect them.


Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of the car buyers’ Dog & Lemon Guide, has also been a vocal critic of biofuels.

“Biofuels currently offer a feelgood factor, and little else. Biofuels globally are driving food prices so high that poor people in developing countries can no longer afford to feed their families. Thousands of people will inevitably starve to death so that Western motorists can sit in traffic jams on their way home from work.”

“Fonterra is making ethanol from whey – a waste product from the dairy industry. However, while the use of this ethanol will slightly reduce New Zealand’s emissions of greenhouse gases from cars, this reduction is small compared to greenhouse gas pollution produced by the New Zealand dairy industry. Greenhouse gases from dairy cows have increased 70% since 1990 while emissions from nitrogen fertiliser – largely due to dairy farm expansion – have increased 500%.”

“The bulk of New Zealand’s C02 emissions come from transport and the farming sector, especially the dairy industry. Any strategy that doesn’t result in fewer wasted car trips and reduced C02 emissions from the dairy industry is doomed to failure.”

“The fantasy behind biofuels says that it’s going to be possible to continue the Western lifestyle of the twentieth century by changing the fuel used to power it. That’s a bit like a fat person trying to lose weight by switching from hamburgers to french fries. The basic problem is never addressed.”

“Cars are the perfect transport for empty roads and the worst transport for busy roads. The problem is not the private car; the problem is the private car sitting in traffic jams while empty trains roll by.”

“Most of the world’s alternative energy industry is based on quick fixes to the current system.”“In reality, most of this technology either isn’t economic, doesn’t work, or simply doesn’t exist and isn’t going to exist anytime soon. It disturbs me to see politicians and business leaders on television promoting fantasy technology using fantasy economics.”

“There’s no quick fix to either the energy shortage or global warming. In the longer term, we’re all going to have to use less energy, and that means smaller houses, less plastic junk that we don’t really need and less wasted trips in our cars.”

See also: Biofuels Fact Sheet