Biofuels pose risks, U.N. reports

From the Associated Press

Biofuels like ethanol can help reduce global warming and create jobs for the rural poor, but the benefits may be undone by serious environmental problems and higher food prices, the U.N. has concluded in its first major report on bioenergy.

The report raised alarms about the potential negative effect of biofuels, just days after a climate conference in Bangkok said the world had the money and technology to stabilize global warming.

Biofuels, made from agricultural products such as corn, palm oil and sugar cane, have been seen by many as a cleaner, cheaper way to meet the world’s soaring energy needs.


But environmentalists warn that biofuels may be as damaging as fossil fuels -- a concern reflected throughout the report, released Tuesday in New York by U.N.-Energy, a consortium of 20 U.N. agencies and programs.

Although the report says bioenergy represents an “extraordinary opportunity” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it warns that “rapid growth in liquid biofuel production will make substantial demands on the world’s land and water resources at a time when demand for both food and forest products is also rising rapidly.”

Changes in the carbon content of soils and carbon stocks in forests might undercut some or all of the benefits of the greenhouse gas reductions, it said.

“Use of large-scale monocropping could lead to significant biodiversity loss, soil erosion and nutrient leaching,” it said, noting that soaring demand for palm oil has led to the clearing of tropical forests in southeast Asia.