IUCN brings sustainability discussions to member conference on biofuels

22 February 2010 | News story

A team of IUCN colleagues participated in the 7th International Biofuels Conference organized by IUCN member, Winrock International India, which took place in New Delhi on the 11th and 12th February, 2010.

The conference brought together experts from a range of sectors including government, private sector, academia and NGOs to discuss biofuel-related issues, policies and potential solutions. The discussions were also influenced by the declaration of the Biofuels Policy for India.

IUCN President, Dr. Ashok Khosla, gave the inaugural address. He highlighted the need to consider biofuels policy, not in isolation, but in the context of population growth, urbanization, consumption patterns and new developments in technology. He expressed his concern regarding the increasing divide between the rich and the poor in relation to their access to affordable and sustainable energy. In addition, he cautioned that biofuels represent only one of several options, including energy conservation, increasing energy efficiency, conversion management, demand-side management and other renewable sources of energy. The use of biomass is complex and should be carefully considered – land and water are essential for food security, not just for the current inhabitants of this earth, but also for future generations who have an equal right to benefit from the resources.

The risks and opportunities of international bioenergy policies were discussed by Jeffrey McNeely, Senior Science Advisor to IUCN. He underlined the need to look at biofuels as part of a larger system. By understanding different objectives, production systems can also be designed to maximize benefits, from small-holder model for local use, small-holder production for commercial processing or large-scale commercial production. He also highlighted the policy recommendations of the International Risk Governance Council project on bioenergy which was chaired by McNeely. In particular, he cautioned that one policy can rarely meet multiple objectives.

IUCN also coordinated a well-received session on ‘Sustainability Issues’. Chaired by Dr. Ashok Khosla, IUCN provided speakers from headquarters and regional offices, as well as a regional partner from South Africa and IUCN member Winrock Internationl India.

Jeff McNeely discussed how the various sustainability issues concerning biofuels are linked, including energy security, food security, climate change, and rural development. He also highlighted how we are often only able to determine retroactively whether a system is sustainable, and that a precautionary approach should be taken, learning from earlier relevant lessons. Jeff also highlighted the work of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, which has recently released a “Version 1.0” of 12 sustainability principles which are now being tested for implementation. Given the moving target of biofuels, policies need also to be flexible rather than locking society in to inefficient options.

IUCN’s Energy Network Coordinator, Nadine McCormick introduced a new sustainability issue of “indirect land use change” (iLUC) to the audience and detailed how the risk can be reduced by taking a landscape approach i.e. through engaging local stakeholders on prioritization of use of lands.

Ganesh Pangare, Coordinator, Regional Water and Wetlands Programme, ELG 1, Asia presented on the hidden use of water for biofuel production, including comparisons on the water consumption of sugarcane in India. However, he emphasized more broadly on the need for changing lifestyles and attitudes for conservation of water resources and for effective water management.

Graham von Maltitz from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa presented on managing the risk of invasive species posed by biofuel production. Graham was involved in an IUCN led project to develop guidelines on biofuels and invasives, which were launched during the conference. The guidelines are intended to inform policies and practices of biofuel producers and decision makers and ultimately provide guidance to importing companies and countries on prevention and management practices.

Overall, the conference highlighted on-going biofuel-related activities in India and other countries. Many IUCN members are present in India and it is hoped that IUCN can help to build on their work and share valuable experiences more widely in the region and help inform Indian biofuel policy.