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Sustainability for Global Biofuels: Tools, Models, Policies, and Frameworks

May 19, 2011 // 10:00am12:00pm
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Insofar as its capacity to reduce carbon emissions associated to climate change, sugarcane ethanol produced in Brazil has proven to be the most efficient form of biofuel available for transportation and bioelectricity generation. Thus it is in Brazil's interest to develop a global market for the product, said Paulo Sotero, Director of the Brazil Institute, as he introduced the discussion on a comprehensive research program conducted by Conservation International on behalf of the US Departament of Energy on the sustainability of biofuels on a global scale. The study is an important contribution to global efforts to build a lower carbon economy in the 21st century, an objective that required markets to be made as free for sugarcane ethanol and sugarcane derivatives, as well as for other forms of advanced, carbon reducing biofuels, as it is today for oil derivatives and other fossil fuels.

Alison Goss Eng, of the Sustainable Biomass Program within the Department of Energy (DOE), introduced the foundation of the Conservation International Project presented during the session. About four years ago, Eng noted, biofuels became a media sensation. Thus the DOE gave Conservation International (CI) a grant to investigate the "availability of data regarding links between biofuel and agricultural production and climate change."

Ranyee Chiang, the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the Biomass Program within the DOE, then briefly introduced bio energy, which consists of more than just ethanol. "There are a whole suite of feed stocks and products," she noted, including the "next generation" of bioenergy, which utilizes agricultural residues, forest resources, waste, and algae. Apart from maintaining soils better, these products compete less with feed and food stocks than traditional sources of bioenergy. The DOE, Chiang explained, is looking at bioenergy systems just as one would look at any industrial process, trying to reduce risks and maximize benefits in order to achieve sustainability. Thus they are concerned with environmental factors like air quality and water conservation as well as ways to integrate bioenergy into the landscape, using methods like forest buffers around bodies of water.

The DOE has recently partnered with Brazil in order to analyze the impacts of land use change and the availability of sustainable feedstocks. They are looking to enhance the bioenergy knowledge discovery framework by encouraging a "holistic" analysis. The DOE is thus beginning to use "multiple pieces of data integrated in a regional specific way in order to inform the bioenergy community's decisions," Chiang explained. This means considering not only environmental but social and economic data as well, such as local lifestyles and available infrastructure.

Christine Dragisic, the Director of Agriculture Biofuels & Forestry at Conservation International, spoke next. She first introduced Conservation International, which is an organization that focuses on protecting ecosystems and healthy communities. "Science," Dragisic stressed, "underpins all our work in markets and policy."

The Sustainable Biofuels Crops Project was the outcome of a three year grant given to Conservation International from the DOE. It looked at five countries and sought to inform market and development policy. Conservation International determined that there was little available information about not only where feedstock production might harmfully impact environmentally and socially sensitive areas, but also where there might be opportunity for minimal environmental and societal impact. There were three phases of the project: first, creating models of risk and opportunity; second, undertaking field studies in accordance with the models; and third, developing necessary frameworks to shape the biofuel industry. The first phase saw the creation of suitability models for nine different feedstocks in areas that would not require irrigation or soil amendments for cultivation. It also considered five staple food crops in the tropics and the potential risks of feedstock production to food security. By overlapping maps of suitable feedstock areas and staple crop areas it could identify areas where there was a risk for "displacement of cultivation to forested lands and critical biodiversity areas," as well as where there are low and high leakage potentials for displacement. Dragisic introduced two pilot projects undertaken in Brazil which are detailed in her PowerPoint presentation.

In order to examine the issue holistically, CI also looked at already converted lands and within those land sets, areas considered "degraded or underutilized." Dragisic observed that "global data sets were limited" in this sphere, so CI also completed a "Responsible Cultivation Areas Project."

Dragisic stressed that CI recognized that other groups might have more detailed and better data, but what is most important about the project is "the process [CI] went through to get to [its conclusions]." She emphasized a holistic methodology to assessing social and environmental risks and opportunities,
which she hoped would be repeated in government discussions and roundtables at local and regional levels.

Manuel Oliva, the director of U.S. Climate Policy at CI, reflected that "CI believes good policy is based on good knowledge." Given that there is "no existing compliance or regulations," and noting that there are "some in development," he believes that CI has created "an easy way to access knowledge" that can help in creating policy which "safeguards the natural systems that enable sustainability."

Lisa Famolare, the Vice President of the Guiana Regional Program at CI, is in charge of policy in Latin America. She noted that these models are a tool for governments when they want to approach financing institutions, because they "integrate biodiversity and human well-being from the beginning." Moreover, countries can build off of these models in order to "integrate spatial planning into land use development plans."

The second phase of the initiative was field projects. Dragisic presented a field project that took place in the Northeastern Biodiversity corridor in Pernambuco and Alagoas states in Brazil. CI looked at how conservation could be reintegrated in "a very consolidated agricultural landscape." By working with all sectors of society, CI developed, in conjunction with the local university, a five module forest restoration course that looked at, among other things, ways to establish compliance with the Forest Code. The effect was to increase awareness and understanding of ecosystem and biodiversity services. Although Dragisic admits the process is "slow going," she believes CI has "begun to change the paradigm of how people in these regions think about their lands, and the relation between soils, carbon, water and production."

Oliva noted that the relevance of field projects vary across stakeholders. Policymakers, financers and investors can use the evidence as a demonstration of the effectiveness of CI's model and approach. Policy makers can use the field project's success to encourage the model's buy in from the local community. Oliva stressed that we must ask what the participation process is like in CI's model, because participation determines long term viability.

In addition to models and field studies, Dragisic underscored that it is "utterly critical" to develop the "policy and market frameworks" necessary "to shape the biofuel industry." In countries that import and produce biofuels, CI is working on frameworks to shape all aspects of production as well as to look at the effects on land use and in communities. CI is also looking to "educate staff and partners on policy discussions [and sustainability criteria] as they emerge" in importer countries like the United States and European Union, which in turn will affect land use in producer countries.

Oliva emphasized the importance not only of the research CI is doing on developing and existing US policy, but also the dialogue CI is having about the research. It is imperative to "bring relevant stakeholders together" from both production and consumption sides, he underscored, "to shape how rules are being developed."
Famolare observed that small countries like Suriname and Guiana lack the access to information that, for example, Brazil has on importer country policies and guidelines. This impedes further development of their biofuel industries and prevents them from adapting best practices.

To conclude, Dragisic explained that CI has "created a huge base of knowledge" and wants to make sure its work in creating and disseminating models continues.

Drafted by Jillian Macnaughton,
Paulo Sotero, Director, Brazil Institute

 
Event Speakers List: 
  • Lisa Famolare // Vice President, Guiana Regional Program
    Conservation International
  • Manuel Oliva // Director, U.S. Climate Policy
    Conservation International
  • Ranyee Chiang // AAAS Science and Technology Fellow, Biomass Program
    U.S. Department of Energy
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