Biofuels: An obstacle to real climate solutions

March 9, 2023

The EU wastes land the size of Ireland on biofuels, missing enormous opportunities to fight climate change, biodiversity loss and the global food crisis.

A new study by the IFEU institute quantifies for the first time the enormous opportunity costs across Europe of dedicating millions of hectares of fertile cropland to the production of biofuels. The results are clear – this land could be used much better in the interest of mitigating climate change, stemming biodiversity loss or increasing global food security. 

In 2009, the European Union (EU) introduced a biofuels mandate as part of its green fuels law, the ‘Renewable Energy Directive’ (RED). The proposition at the time was attractive: farmers would be supported to produce ‘green fuels’. In reality, biofuels have harmed food security and obstructed climate change mitigation.

The study carried out by the Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung (IFEU) on behalf of T&E shows that production of crops for biofuels consumed in Europe requires 9.6 Mha of land – an area larger than the island of Ireland. This is 5.3 Mha if the production of co-products, mainly feed for industrial livestock farming, is taken into account.

Key findings
  • If this land were returned to its natural state (‘rewilded’) it could absorb around 65 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere – nearly twice the officially reported net CO2 savings from biofuels replacing fossil fuels.
  • Using the land for solar farms would be far more efficient. You need 40 times more land to power a car using biofuels vs an electric car powered by solar. Using an area equivalent to just 2.5% of this land for solar panels would produce the same amount of energy.
  • Crops cultivated on these lands could be used to provide the calorie needs of at least 120 million people.

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