Category Archives: Food and fuel

Accentuating the positive?

30 Apr 20
Chris Malins
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Estimating emissions associated with indirect land use change (ILUC) is a fundamental part of analysing the likely net GHG emissions impacts of biofuel mandates, and in some regulations (e.g. U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, California Low Carbon Fuel Standard and ICAO’s CORSIA) estimates of ILUC emissions associated with specific feedstocks have been integrated into regulatory lifecycle analysis frameworks. This academic paper, co-authored by Chris Malins of Cerulogy with Richard Plevin and Robert Edwards, examines the development of one particular model for estimating ILUC emissions (GTAP-BIO) and asks how well supported by relevant data and/or analysis various adjustments and innovations introduced to the model over the past decade or so have been.

Particular attention is paid to a series of model amendments that have enhanced the role of intensive responses (increased productivity on existing agricultural land) in the model and reduced the predicted extent of land use changes from biofuel policy. The paper finds that there is a lack of compelling evidence supporting adopted assumptions, and that on more than one occasion model adjustments that have been presented as ‘neutral’ have in fact predictably resulted in reduced output ILUC values. It also notes that while the ‘cropland-pasture’ land category in the U.S. has been made central to the model outcomes there is very little evidence available to confirm that this is a realistic assumption, and that emission factors have been adopted for cropland-pasture conversion that are difficult to justify analytically. Reductions in modelled ILUC estimates ought therefore to be understood as at least as much the result of subjective decisions by the modelling teams involved as the result of any objectively demonstrable improvement in our understanding of the systems being studied.

The paper concludes that it is unclear whether more recent published ILUC estimates are likely to be closer to the ‘real’ average ILUC values for corn ethanol and soy biodiesel than higher values from earlier assessments.

Risk management

24 Jan 19
Chris Malins
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The recast Renewable Energy Directive, agreed last year, created a new category of high ILUC-risk biofuels, along with defining a role for certifying low ILUC-risk biofuels. This report, undertaken for Transport and Environment, reviews the links between biofuel feedstocks and conversion of high carbon stock land, and looks at the challenges in certifying feedstocks for avoiding displacement. It finds that both palm oil and soy oil production continue to be associated with significant deforestation, and in the case of palm oil with peat drainage, and recommends that these should be categorised as high ILUC-risk by the European Commission.

Reviewing the status of the low ILUC-risk concept, the report draws attention to the difficulty of measuring the impact of productivity improvement projects and the importance of robust demonstration of project additionality, and proposes a an outline for an effective low ILUC-risk certification.

Thought for food

15 Sep 17
Chris Malins
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Since the food price crisis of 2006-2008, there has been a lively debate about the impact of biofuel demand on food markets, prices and security, with some biofuel advocates characterising the idea of competition between food and fuel as a ‘myth’. This review for Transport and Environment and Birdlife Europe shows that there is an extensive literature supporting the belief that biofuel demand is likely to cause food prices to rise, and that these price rises will result in significant wealth transfers from consumers to producers and have negative welfare implications for poor households in the developing world. Far from reflecting ’emotional’ responses divorced from the available evidence, concerns about the impacts of biofuel demand on global poverty are well supported and legitimate – while the flat denial that biofuel demand affects food markets is disingenuous and divorced from the mainstream of expert opinion. On the other hand, biofuel demand is only one relatively small factor in the overall picture of global food insecurity, and the benefits of biofuel policy should be compared soberly to the potential negative externalities.