U.N. Panel Raises Concerns About Biofuels

Along with the benefits, biofuels could cause environmental and economic problems, a U.N. report warns.

Published on: May 10, 2007

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

In an agency-wide assessment, the U.N. raises alarms about the potential negative impact of biofuels, just days after a climate conference in Bangkok said the world had both the money and technology to prevent global warming blamed in part on greenhouse gas emissions.

The report says bioenergy represents an "extraordinary opportunity" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it warned 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 and peat lands might offset some or all of the benefits of the greenhouse gas reductions, it says.

"Use of large-scale monocropping could lead to significant biodiversity loss, soil erosion and nutrient leaching," it says, adding that investments in bioenergy must be managed carefully, at national, regional and local levels to avoid new environmental and social problems "some of which could have irreversible consequences."

Source: Associated Press