The United Nations will officially warn that growing crops to make “green” biofuel harms the environment and drives up food prices, The Telegraph can disclose.
A leaked draft of a UN report condemns the widespread use of biofuels made from crops as a replacement for petrol and diesel. It says that biofuels, rather than combating the effects of global warming, could make them worse.
The draft report represents a dramatic about-turn for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Its previous assessment on climate change, in 2007, was widely condemned by environmentalists for giving the green light to large-scale biofuel production. The latest report instead puts pressure on world leaders to scrap policies promoting the use of biofuel for transport.
The report into the impact of man-made climate change is the most authoritative of its kind. For the first time, it considered the impact of biofuels on the environment.
Biofuels were once billed as the green alternative to fossil fuels, but environmental campaigners have voiced concern about them for some time.
They note that growing biofuel crops on a large scale requires either the conversion of agricultural land used for food crops or the destruction of forests to free up land, possibly offsetting any reduction in carbon emissions from the use of biofuels.
Other concerns include increased stress on water supplies and rising corn prices as a result of increased demand for the crop, which is fermented to produce biofuel.
Bioethanol, made from corn and sugar cane, can be used as a substitute for petrol, while biodiesel, made from rapeseed, sunflower or palm oil, is an alternative to diesel.
A European Union directive set a target for biofuels used in transport to double to 10 per cent by 2020, although it has limited the amount from food crops to 5 per cent.
Round 5 per cent of fuel sold in the UK comes from biodiesel. The latest Department for Transport figures show 1.33 billion litres were consumed here for the 12 months to April 2013. The IPCC report appears to recognize environmentalists’ concerns. It states: “If production [of biofuels] is not carefully managed, biofuel feedstocks can displace land for food cropping or natural, unmanaged ecosystems.”
Referring in part to deforestation, it says any benefit of biofuel production on carbon emissions “may be offset partly or entirely for decades or centuries by emissions from the resulting indirect land-use changes”. On biofuel production from corn, it adds: “Resulting increases in demand for corn contribute to higher corn prices and may indirectly increase incidence of malnutrition in vulnerable populations.”