Thursday, February 8, 2018

Biofuels vs. Biodiversity and the Need to Think Beyond Carbon Neutral

Seminar given at the University of Michigan, Thursday, February 8, 2018

Download the presentation slides [PDF]


Just over a decade ago, policymakers gave a big boost to biofuels through the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and similar policies. These policies included sustainability provisions for protecting sensitive lands; the intent was to spur the production of advanced biofuels that would be sustainable in many ways including low CO2 emissions. Now, new studies appear each year revealing the destruction of diverse habitats as biofuel production amplifies the global demand for land. There have also been multiple bankruptcies of highly-subsidized advanced biofuel operations. What went wrong and how can we find a better path forward?

To answer these questions, this talk will synthesize findings from the recent literature regarding the impact of biofuel production on land use, biodiversity and CO2 emissions. It will re-examine the assumptions that underpin renewable fuel policies in light of ecological and economic realities. Mistakes could have been avoided had analysts been more attentive to the terrestrial carbon cycle and the fact that increasing the rate of net carbon uptake is crucial for any form of bio-based climate mitigation. The discussion will highlight the importance of "Thinking Beyond Carbon Neutral," which in this context means properly valuing the carbon-storing ecosystem service that biologically rich lands provide. This insight is consistent with environmental economics, notably, the importance of putting a uniform price on carbon so that terrestrial carbon stocks are properly valued and all CO2 emissions are managed regardless of their origin.

Given below is a list of the references cited in the presentation.