Need for Global Adoption of Transport Biofuels is Pressing

FROM THE JUNE ISSUE: Global Renewable Fuels Alliance President Bliss Baker says global adoption of transport biofuels is a pressing matter in order to combat climate change.
By Bliss Baker | May 28, 2018

2018 will see global temperatures vary significantly from the norm. At the start of the year, January was recorded as the fifth-highest temperature for that month since 1880. Each January in the past four years (2015 to 2018) ranks among the five highest on record. The global land and ocean temperatures during January have increased at an average of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit (0.07 degrees Celsius) per decade since 1880, but the average rate of increase doubles as of 1975. Going into spring, March was colder than the 1981 to 2010 average over almost all of Europe, the northern U.S. and southern Canada.

But temperatures were substantially above average over a large region stretching from northeastern Africa through the Middle East and into China and the Indian subcontinent. It was also notably warmer than average over Mexico, Alaska and west across the Bering strait into northeastern Russia, the northeast of Canada and parts of the American Southwest, Antarctica and Australia. Essentially, regions that should not be warmer got warmer. Experts are predicting a much warmer summer for 2018.

Observing these trends, scientists note that, going forward, each new month and year have the potential to be the hottest on record. The data so far in 2018 strongly suggests that it will pass 2015 and 2014 as the hottest year on record. Fifteen of the 16 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century and it’s only 2018.

The ink is barely dry on the celebrated Paris agreement reached at COP21, which pledged global action to keep global temperature increases “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, this latest data has already shaken the foundations on which the deal was reached.

Changes to the climate are outpacing predictions, putting efforts to reduce emissions significantly behind schedule. The targets set in the COP21 agreement were used to inform government planning for emissions reductions on a timeframe looking forward to 2050.

As David Carlson, the director of the World Meteorological Organization put it, “We don’t have as much time as we thought.”

One of the most pressing sectors where further action is needed is the transportation sector. Transport is the second-biggest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world, accounting for more than one-fifth of all emissions. But progress in reducing these emissions is among the slowest of all sectors. This may be attributed to the fact that the adoption of biofuel technologies, including the use of ethanol, remains far below current potential.

According to the International Energy Agency, sustainable biofuels could provide 27 percent of the world’s total transport fuel by 2050 and avoid around 2.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year, with biofuels eventually providing 20 percent of total emission savings in the transport sector.
For the Paris Agreement to be realized, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries need to decline by 2.1 percent annually up to 2025. And they’ll need to use ethanol.
Ethanol cuts GHG emissions from petrol by more than half and is promoted by most major industrial nations in the world.

The IEA expects oil demand to grow at an average annual rate of 1.2 million barrels per day. By 2023, oil demand will reach 104.7 million barrels per day, up 6.9 million barrels from 2017, but the oil market likely will tighten by 2023 with increased risk of price volatility. The bright side is that the market could go through two phases during the next six years. Through 2020, record supply from non-OPEC countries more than covers expected demand growth. But by 2023, if investments remain insufficient, the effective global spare capacity cushion falls to only 2.2 percent of demand, the lowest number since 2007. This raises the possibility of oil prices becoming more volatile until new supplies come on line. Increasing the ethanol blend wall could be the answer to meet demand.

The biofuels industry will respond to this new demand. Government policies that increase the demand for, and investment in, biofuels will continue to drive research into new technologies and best practices. This, in turn, will promote next-generation biofuels and their associated advantages such as the use of agriculture waste products and increased emission offsets.

With an accelerated time frame for global action on climate change, the challenge for national governments has changed from identifying what actions need to be taken, to finding the best policy direction to achieve them.

Whatever form those policies take, biofuels will have a significant and continuing role to play in the global effort to fight climate change.

Author: Bliss Baker
President, Global Renewable Fuels Alliance