World leaders must recognize biofuels potential

Given the challenge that countries face in transitioning off carbon intensive technologies, now is the time for world leaders to acknowledge the enormous potential of biofuels, writes Bliss Baker. This column appears in the February issue of EPM.
By Bliss Baker | January 15, 2016

At the recently concluded Paris Climate Summit, or COP21, leaders of 195 countries reached a landmark agreement on combating climate change, which will come into effect in 2020. It aims to ensure that the global temperature rise this century does not exceed 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by shifting to a low carbon global economy and encouraging the development of clean technologies as the basis for future development.

As part of the agreement, the signatories will be required to prepare, communicate and maintain plans outlining their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Countries are also required to submit updated climate plans every five years allowing them to gradually increase the ambitiousness of their goals.

Given the daunting scale of the challenge that countries face in transitioning off carbon intensive technologies, now is the time for world leaders to acknowledge the enormous potential of biofuels as the only commercially viable technology available to significantly offset emissions in the transport sector over the short and medium term by including supportive policies in their plans.

According to a report by the International Energy Agency, sustainable biofuels could provide 27 percent of the world’s total transport fuel by 2050 and avoid around 2.1 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, with biofuels eventually providing 20 percent of total emission reductions in the transport sector.

“Greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing climate change, can be controlled,” Michel Jarraud, director-general of the World Meteorological Organization, recently explained. “We have the knowledge and the tools to act. We have a choice. Future generations will not.”

That biofuels represent a key tool in global efforts to combat climate change is self-evident. What is needed is the political will to enhance biofuel friendly policies in developed nations in order to lead by example in maximizing the advantages of biofuel technologies that are demonstrated to be effective, affordable and immediately available.

On Dec. 6 in Paris, our organization released a report prepared by (S&T)2 Consultants Inc., which uses figures from F.O. Licht examining the impact of biofuels on global emissions. The report found that the total GHG emission reductions from global biofuels production forecast for 2014 is 169 million metric tons CO2 equivalent. These findings are consistent with recent trends, which show global ethanol production and use has, year after year, steadily reduced GHG emissions.

To put the scale of these reductions into perspective, the projections for 2014 now represent a total greater than the GHG emissions in 28 Annex 1 countries, which includes industrialized nations such as the U.S. and France.

Given the ambitious goal of the agreement reached at COP21, estimated to represent CO2 emission reductions of 80 percent by 2050, countries will need to embrace biofuels like ethanol in order to achieve their targets.

With the momentum coming out of COP21, now is the time for governments around to world to demonstrate leadership, introduce stronger global biofuel policies, and prioritize the commercialization of advanced biofuels to take full advantage of low carbon biofuels like ethanol in the fight against climate change.

Thirty-seven countries have already recognized the unique value of biofuels like ethanol as a low carbon alternative to fossil fuels and included biofuel friendly policies as part of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions plans they submitted at COP21.

Given the size of the challenge being confronted, supporting biofuels is a no-brainer.

Author: Bliss Baker
Global Renewable Fuels Association