Biofuels and resource use efficiency in developing Asia: Back to basics

In Applied Energy
Volume (Issue): Volume 86, Supplement 1
Peer-reviewed Article
Biofuels and resource use efficiency in developing Asia: Back to basics

In Asia, as elsewhere in the world, countries rushed to promote biofuels during the dramatic oil price increases of 2007-2008 as way to enhance energy security, without waiting for the settlement of controversial debates about the environmental effects of biofuels, especially their effects on greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and biodiversity, and whether biofuels cause a conflict between food and fuel. This paper does not settle this debate, but instead argues that there are straightforward, practical, feasible measures that can be implemented immediately in order to reduce the pressure of biofuels on the environment and food supply, and more generally increase food production. The key is to focus on increasing resource use efficiency in agriculture, especially energy use. Resource use efficiency in agriculture is low in many parts of Asia. Concrete measures include reductions in market distorting input subsidies and the introduction of resource conserving technologies. These could be supplemented with greater use of non-fossil fuels in agricultural production, use of agricultural wastes in energy production, inclusion of input use levels in biofuel certification systems, and greater investment in agricultural research, extension systems, and infrastructure development. Biofuel fever has waned since the onset of the global financial crisis in late 2008, but it is likely return when the economies eventually recovers, and possibly accelerate, if the European Union moves to strengthen its biofuel blending requirements. Much of the debate on biofuel related impacts in the region has focused on deforestation, with little attention on agricultural input use, which could also have serious consequences for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In sum, this paper argues that governments can still improve the environmental performance of biofuels while reducing potential conflicts with food security by implementing the straightforward measures suggested here. Though these may appear to be basic textbook suggestions, many governments are still not following them even though the spread of biofuels increases their importance and urgency. The message is that the governments in the region should get back to the basics.


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