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Biofuels and land use in Sweden - an overview of land-use change effects

Höglund, Jonas; Hansen, Karin; Gustavsson, Mathias; Hansson, Julia; Ahlgren, Serina; Börjesson, Pål; Sundberg, Cecilia; Helldin, Jan Olof; Ahmadi Moghaddam, Elham; Grahn, Maria; Granström, Martin; Cederberg, Christel


Supported by policies, biofuel production has been continuously increasing worldwide during re-cent years owing to a scientific consensus that human-induced global warming is a reality and the need to reduce import dependency of fossil fuels. However, concerns have been raised that bio-fuels, often advocated as the future substitute for greenhouse gas (GHG) intensive fossil fuels, may cause negative effects on the climate and the environment. When assessing GHG emissions from biofuels, the production phase of the biofuel crop is essential since this is the phase in which most of the GHG emissions occur during the life cycle of the fuel (not accounting for biogenic CO2 from the tailpipe). Much research has been focusing on the GHG performance of biofuels, but there are also a range of other possible environmental effects of biofuel production, often linked to land use and land management.
Changes in land use can result from a wide range of anthropogenic activities including agriculture and forestry management, livestock and biofuel production. Direct effects of land-use change (LUC) range from changes of carbon stock in standing biomass to biodiversity impacts and nutrient leakage. Beside the direct effects, indirect effects can influence other uses of land through market forces across countries and continents. These indirect effects are complex to measure and observe.
This report provides an overview of a much debated issue: the connection between LUC and bio-fuel production and associated potential impacts on a wide range of aspects (i.e., soil chemistry, biodiversity, socioeconomics, climate change, and policy). The main purpose of the report is to give a broad overview of the literature on LUC impacts from biofuel production, not only taking into account the link between LUC and GHG, which has been addressed in many other studies.
The report first presents a review of the literature in the different scientific areas related to LUC and biofuel production. Next, knowledge gaps related to LUC is compiled and, finally, a synthesis is developed highlighting major challenges and key findings.
The synthesis identifies the following major challenges associated with biofuel-induced LUC that need to be addressed in policy-making processes:

  •  Deforestation, forest management, and climate change. Deforestation is a major contributor to GHG emissions and can contribute to soil erosion and carbon stock changes. Other effects include albedo changes and the timing of emiss-ions which need to be better understood.
  •  Degradation of biodiversity. Land-use changes is one of the major threats to global biodiversity and it can be induced by most kinds of human activities. Forestry for timber or agricultural food production also in-duces LUC, and great care must be taken to develop sustainable biofuel production to ameliorate this impact.
  •  Nutrient leakage and removal. Increased use of forest residues can influence the growth potential of nutrient pools, which is especially important when forestry residues are utilised for biofuel production. To avoid fertility losses in agricultural soils during biofuel production, crops with low fertilizer needs, high nutrient use efficiency and high yields should be given priority
  •  Challenges in quantifying indirect land-use change (iLUC). Indirect effects on land use are extremely complex to quantify without great uncertainty.
  •  Contribution to rising food prices and poverty. Even more challenging than quantifying iLUC is trying to measure the impact on food prices and poverty from LUC. Results show that biofuel production can have an impact on such factors.
  •  Other socioeconomic aspects. Biofuel production can create jobs but also interfere with traditional ways of life and recre-ational values. To avoid negative effects, biofuel production should be developed in collaboration with the stakeholders involved: farmers, land owners, tourists, and industry.
Although biofuels can contribute to decreasing GHG emissions, there are other environmental con-cerns associated with biofuel production that need to be addressed: e.g., nutrient leakage, biodiver-sity loss, etc. The diversity of biofuel feedstock and the multiplicity of biofuel pathways lead to high uncertainty in measuring the resulting effects, especially when indirect effects are considered. Since biofuel feedstock interacts with other commodities on the market, it is a great challenge to develop relevant certification systems in order to avoid risks. The LUC caused by increasing use of biofuels can be negative to various degrees. However, the drawbacks can be mitigated through policy measures or technology developments. Examples include the cultivation of high-yielding crops, cultivation on abandoned arable land, and effective use of by-products and waste. Second generation biofuels derived from cellulosic feedstock, such as salix or poplar, also hold promises since they most likely offer higher biomass yields and increase carbon storage.
Current methods of LUC assessments typically focus on GHG emissions. However, tools and approaches to account for effects other than greenhouse gases should be adopted.
The literature review and synthesis presented in this report shows that land use on this planet is already placing high stress on ecosystems, atmosphere, soils and human life. Because of increased biofuel production, land use change is therefore at risk of aggravating these problems. To avoid these pitfalls and instead explore the opportunities that exist for beneficial land-use change, contin-ued responsible and sensitive collaboration between industry, policy-makers, researchers and local communities is a prerequisite.

Published in

f3 report
2013, number: 2013:7
Publisher: f3 The Swedish Knowledge Centre for Renewable Transportation Fuels