unctad.org | No one size fits all, says bio-fuels panel at Rio+20
No one size fits all, says bio-fuels panel at Rio+20
19 June 2012
Biofuels Side Event at Rio+20
On the eve of the official opening of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development -- Rio+20, a panel discussion was organized by UNCTAD on exploring new sustainable and socially inclusive biofuels experiences in developing and least developed countries at the Brazilian Military Institute of Engineering (IME) in Rio de Janeiro on 19 June.​

Introducing the event, Mr. Guillermo Valles, Director of UNCTAD's Trade Division, explained the notion of no one-size-fits-all: “While we recognize that biofuels represents a promising option to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, we also know that criticism abounds. We therefore deem it important to have a forum to debate national experiences and create the necessary dialogue. And while there is not one solution for all countries, there is also no one single critique that applies to biofuel production in all countries.
The production of biofuels can enhance energy diversification, generate income and improve the livelihood of populations. Yet in spite of this reality, immediate caution emerged as the debate ensued on the main opportunities and challenges of biofuel production.
Recognizing the complexity of the matter, UNCTAD’s Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said: “We better be cautious about the way we handle biofuel production to avoid taking away food from the people that need it and use it as fuel. It has been said that if 5 % of the energy used for production of biofuels can be used to produce food, we could supply sufficient food to everyone on earth. So we should ask ourselves whether we are making optimum use of land when we make choices between food and biofuel production."
Dr. Supachai, said that experiences vary widely: “In some countries, everything that has been done should not have been done, in other words, in those cases the production of biofuels has been largely harmful to its people and the environment. In Brazil, on the contrary, we have a lot to learn, as they seem to have succeeded in striking the delicate balance between food and biofuels."
The meeting concurred that while there are opportunities in biofuels production for developing countries, achieving a balance economically, environmentally, socially and politically is not easy. Professor Daniel de la Torre Ugarte from the University of Tennessee explained how food, energy uses and environmental concerns could be balanced, reminding participants that when introducing policy instruments we must not forget there is a cost and policy decisions have market consequences.
By examining biofuel experiences in countries around the world, the event profited from concrete examples of how biofuel in the developing and least developed countries is produced and used to enhance energy diversification, generate income and increase welfare.
Mr. Henrique Pacini, a consultant at UNCTAD, extracted the lessons learned from the Mexican experience: “There is no recipe for biofuels development; each country has its own priorities." Along these lines, Prof. Semida Silveira and Mr. Dilip Khatiwada of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden said all countries have the opportunity but the entry points are different.
Among leading countries producing biofuels are Sweden and Brazil. Mr. Magnus Kindbom, State Secretary for Rural Affairs of Sweden, qualified further the national experience by stating: “In Sweden, the share of bioenergy is now over 30% and, in the agricultural sector, 5% of land is being used for bioenergy production. We are fully committed to producing biofuels in a responsible way. We have reduced emissions while we have experienced growth. We have also been using our forests while maintaining the highest environmental standard.
From the business standpoint, the meeting benefitted from the experience of a private Brazilian conglomerate. Mr. Luiz Eduardo Froes do Amaral Osorio, Vice-President of Raizen, said: "Brazil produced last year 22 billion liters of ethanol. According to the Brazilian government, the needs for 2020 consumption are 65 billion, so to meet this demand we need to triple our production in only 8 years. "
The question that emerged is how production can be tripled in Brazil to supply ethanol in internal markets and also to export ethanol onto other markets. The best bet according to Mr. Osorio is in investing in technology. Raizen and entities in other countries are investing heavily in technology to go from 1st to 2nd generation in 5 to 10 years time. “I believe that in the next ten years time we will see technological breakthroughs in this industry and once we have been successful in production of second generation ethanol, it is then when we will see the real fruits from this industry.”
The panel discussion side-event encouraged further reflection and provided recommendations on how countries can find ways of entry into the green economy by developing their bioenergy potentials, in line with the goals of the UNCSD Rio+20.


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