Groundbreaking report on biodiversity impacts of biofuel production


JNCC has published a major new report - Indirect Land Use Change from biofuel production: implications for biodiversity - highlighting the biodiversity impacts of indirect land use change caused by biofuel production.


Deforestation in Brazil © Lanthilda_DreamstimeAttempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector have led to political and financial incentives to increase the use of biofuel - a fuel made from biomass -  in transport fuels. A 2008 target set at a European Summit requires the UK and other EU member states to source 10% of their transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020. In effect this means a 10% biofuel target since other technologies are not yet commercially available.


Direct impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services, including habitat loss, drainage of wetlands, increased agro-chemical use, water abstraction and impacts on soil and air quality are fairly well understood and researched. However, a new and little understood threat to biodiversity has recently emerged: the impact that indirect land use change (ILUC) has on biodiversity and ecosystems around the world. ILUC occurs when for example, a farmer switches his production of arable crops or livestock to energy crops to fulfil the new demand for bioenergy. The demand for arable crops and livestock still exists and may be met through clearing new land to accommodate the crops or livestock, possibly in a different part of the world.


A recent study1, undertaken by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, suggested that the European biofuels target would lead to ILUC of between 4.1 and 6.9Mha by 2020 globally, in additon to the estimated 33 Mha that are already used for bioenergy production2. For comparison the UK has about 5 Mha of arable land.


The conversion of so much extra land will not only create additonal greenhouse gas emissions but will also have major implications for biodiversity. So far ILUC has mainly been discussed in relation to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. The European Commission is expected to publish a legislative proposal on tackling this problem after the summer. However, much less in the public eye are the biodiversity implications of ILUC. JNCC has therefore commissioned the United Nations Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) to undertake a study analysing the impacts of ILUC on biodiversity caused by biofuel production.


The report is to our knowledge the first such research undertaken to this end and the report designs a framework to measure the impacts of ILUC on biodiversity and concludes that:


"Sustainability standards and criteria for first generation biofuel crops [...] aim at preventing biofuel production encroaching on areas of importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Hence they represent a mechanism to control where conversion for biofuel production will take place in the future. However, because of its complexities, there are currently no standards or criteria that can prevent ILUC from happening. This presents a gap in the sustainability standards: By banning biofuel crops from certain areas, their cultivation on existing agricultural land is encouraged, thereby forcing the food crops and feedstocks previously grown on this land to move elsewhere. However, these food crops or feedstock can enter the areas that biofuel crops are banned from. The logical conclusion is that sustainability standards and criteria for biofuel production will not be able to ensure sustainability without a criterion on ILUC.”



1Bowyer, C. 2010. Anticipated indirect land use change associated with expanded use of biofuels and bioliquids in the EU - an analysis of the national renewable energy action plans. IEEP, -24 pages.


2Latest figures available are for 2008. Fargione, J.E., Plevin, R.J., Hill, J.D. 2010. The Ecological Impact of Biofuels. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 41, 351-377.



Contact File


Jessica Magnus

EU Policy Adviser

Tel: +44 (0)1733 866856


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