Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Monday 04/07/14

The IPCC on Biofuels: Good or Bad?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its climate adaptation report last week that included citations from studies raising concerns about the global expansion of biofuels. Scientists writing the report detailed tradeoffs in various policies that may mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions but create problems in adapting to the effects of climate change, and vice versa. Each policy decision regarding energy creates tradeoffs that must be considered. In other words, low-carbon, non-fossil fuel energy solutions can cause other complications for society.

The IPCC report said biofuels can be part of a strategy to reduce carbon emissions, but the report also cites risks from conflicts between using land to grow crops for biofuels and growing crops for food. The report also expressed concern about land-uses changes from biofuels.

A reporter attending the North American Agricultural Journalists meeting asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy about the IPCC's perspective on biofuels.

Vilsack said he thinks the IPCC's report was directed to other nations that have less productive agriculture than the U.S. Agriculture and forestry in the U.S. work as a carbon sink. Moreover, biofuels allow the U.S. to use the full capacity of the country's agricultural waste. The country also has figured out ways to produce more efficient biofuels that reduce the environmental footprint of the industry. "That may not necessarily be the case in other countries," he said.

McCarthy said she thought EPA was doing a good job of examining the lifecycle emissions from feedstocks and will keep doing that to move biofuels forward. Of the IPCC analysis, McCarthy said the scientists can speak on generalities, but EPA must implement the law.

"The IPCC report was actually a quite good report in addressing the climate science, but I think the Renewable Fuels Standard that Congress enacted is the standard in place," she said. "It's the law. EPA's job is to implement it and that's exactly what we're going to do."

It should be noted that the role of biofuels in the complex issue of climate change wasn't emphasized by IPCC authors. They were, however, worried about growing global food insecurity in the future. That issue permeated the IPCC's report in various ways, including future yield losses for major crops.

On biofuels, the IPCC cites studies indicating:

Food production requires significant amounts of energy, but the major link between food and energy in regards to climate change will come from competition between food and bioenergy production for land and water. This will be an issue not only with biofuels but using crops or crop waste for other forms of energy as well.

Water for biofuels could help drive up the use of irrigated water usage, resulting in more pressure on freshwater resources with potential negative impacts on freshwater ecosystems.

With trends in population, income and bioenergy demand, there will be continued efforts to expanded global arable lands, though the extent is uncertain and the quality of new land that may come into production would also be questionable.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Posted at 3:56PM CDT 04/07/14 by Chris Clayton
Comments (8)
Maybe the question should be "are biofuels better then the standard quo fossil industries?" They are surely not perfect but comparison to fossil and nukes shines a different light. With oil we have tar sands, BP deepwater oil spills, XL pipeline over aquifers, war for oil in the Mid East,,, nukes have 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima melt downs. As for competition for food growing that is more of a political issue, we had just as many staring people when the surpluses were enormous and grain prices cheaper then dirt. Biofuels need to be explored but probably on a local use basis, like making tractor and truck fuels at the farm level.
Posted by Jay Mcginnis at 12:16PM CDT 04/08/14
Maybe the question should be "are biofuels better then the standard quo fossil industries?" They are surely not perfect but comparison to fossil and nukes shines a different light. With oil we have tar sands, BP deepwater oil spills, XL pipeline over aquifers, war for oil in the Mid East,,, nukes have 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima melt downs. As for competition for food growing that is more of a political issue, we had just as many staring people when the surpluses were enormous and grain prices cheaper then dirt. Biofuels need to be explored but probably on a local use basis, like making tractor and truck fuels at the farm level.
Posted by Jay Mcginnis at 6:25AM CDT 04/09/14
Isn't the total crop land use for biofuels something like only 3 or 4 % worldwide? Much of that is in the U.S. where total planted acres has dropped over the last 30 years and we currently sit atop significant corn surplus. Perhaps the IPCC should spend its time figuring out when we will all scorch from global warming and leave ag issues to the better informed.
Posted by Curt Zingula at 7:00AM CDT 04/09/14
What has been far worse then biofuels has been suburbia, it has taken MILLIONS of farm acres and transformed them into paved over shopping malls and ticky tack houses where only travel by gas gussling vehicles make living there possible. Suburbia is a guaranteed failure producing huge amounts of CO2, arable land destruction, water waste and a huge eye sore. Lets stop our denial and get to the real elephant in the room! Suburbia took huge energy and resources to create and even more to sustain!
Posted by Jay Mcginnis at 7:49AM CDT 04/09/14
Great comments - now what do we do? It seems that agriculture is the focus these days of many governmental agencies and the non-farming public which makes you wonder what we did wrong in their eyes? Any answers.
Posted by John Finley at 8:18AM CDT 04/09/14
United Nations IPCC is the full and proper name for this group of thieving collection of dictators whose soul goal is to raid the U.S. treasury on some goofy idea based on a computer model rigged to get the results they want Obama is dying to get a carbon tax then he will control your health care and anything touched by oil, which is almost everything.
Posted by GORDON KEYES at 9:58AM CDT 04/09/14
Good one, Jay. Many heated garages are now larger and warmer than the house I grew up in.
Posted by Bonnie Dukowitz at 6:32AM CDT 04/12/14
Solar Panels and Wind Turbines, great our electricity now is supposed to depend on the weather!
Posted by GORDON KEYES at 2:36PM CDT 04/12/14
Post a Blog Comment:
Your Comment:
DTN reserves the right to delete comments posted to any of our blogs and forums, for reasons including profanity, libel, irrelevant personal attacks and advertisements.
Blog Home Pages
July  2014
S M T W T F S
      1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31      
Subscribe to Ag Policy Blog RSS
Recent Blog Posts
  • Life is a Highway Full of Bumps and Detours
  • AFBF not Impressed by EPA Reaction to Ag Concerns
  • Bumper Crop 2014 Crop Would Put ARC in Spotlight
  • House Continues to Wrestle with Waters of the United States
  • White House Opposes Bonus Depreciation Bill
  • Amendments Blocked on Sportsmen's Bill
  • McCarthy Hint on Direction of RFS?
  • EPA Chief Headed to Show-Me State
  • Nebraskans Question FSA Livestock Disaster Payment Formula
  • Finding My Kicks on Route 66
  • Ag Leaders Question Next Steps on Immigration Reform
  • Business Groups Want Quick Action on COOL
  • Conservation Agriculture: Moon Shot or Forced Change is Coming
  • Talks Continue Over Brazilian Cotton Payments
  • Rupert Murdoch: Congress Should Act on Immigration Reform
  • EU Ready to Save TTIP from Agriculture
  • Thune Seeks CRP Changes
  • Mississippi Senate Runoff Battle Pits Farmers v Club for Growth
  • A Long Row to Hoe on Trade Deals
  • Cantor Loses Primary; WOTUS Rule Delayed