Efficiency Gains in Land

Increasing Energy and Material Productivity

Global resources do not allow patterns of current consumption to simply shift from fossil resources to biomass. Instead, the level of consumption needs to be significantly reduced for biofuels to be able to substitute for relevant portions of fossil fuel use. For that to occur, resource efficiency—in terms of services provided per unit of primary material, energy, and land—will need to be drastically increased. Various developed and developing countries and international organizations have formulated goals and targets for increased resource productivity.

Designing a policy framework by setting incentives for a more productive use of resources might be more effective and efficient in fostering a sustainable resource use than regulating and fostering specific technologies. Experiences from targeted biofuel policies corroborate the assumption that the risk of un-desired side effects grows with the degree to which policies are technology prescriptive, rather than setting an incentive framework with regard to overarching goals, such as climate change control.

Countries with a relevant share of the population suffering from obesity might consider launching or strengthening programs to encourage healthier diets. A higher share of vegetables in the diets of rich countries would improve the overall health of the population and significantly reduce global land requirements for food consumption. In addition, campaigns may be started to monitor and reduce the amount of food product wastes in retail trade and households. Such measures could contribute to a more efficient use of national and global resources.

Altogether, various strategies and measures can be used to develop policies further to contribute to a more effi cient and sustainable use of biomass and other resources, and thus to a more sustainable land management.

Restoring Formerly Degraded Land

The expansion of cultivated land for either food or nonfood biomass crops would not occur at the expense of native forests and other valuable ecosystems if formerly degraded land were used. It has been suggested that some crops could be used to restore degraded land to productive levels. On a local scale, especially in developing countries, farmers and communities could benefit from the use of degraded land. Nevertheless, crop and location-specific challenges and concerns exist, especially regarding possible yields and required inputs, and side effects on water household and biodiversity. Higher uncertainties regarding a potential agricultural use and concerns on its impacts exist with so-called "marginal" land, which has never been under cultivation.

Mineral-based Renewable Energy Systems

For using solar energy, alternative technologies are available that can provide power and heat with more efficient land use and less environmental impacts than the most efficient utilization of biomass. While mineral-based systems (e.g., photovoltaics and solar thermal) may still be more costly, their future development could potentially provide higher environmental benefits. In developed and developing countries, solar technologies are already in use and seem viable, particularly in off-grid locations. As these technologies provide services similar to biofuels, their adequacy may be determined in the local so-ciocultural and environmental context, and any national and regional resource management would be advised to ponder the enhanced use of biofuels against that of potentially more beneficial alternatives.

Increasing Efficiency in Fuel Consumption

Increasing the fuel efficiency of car fleets could significantly contribute to climate change mitigation and, in contrast to biofuels derived from energy crops, would not contribute to the growing global scarcity of cropland. As the change of fuel type seems to have limited potential to mitigate environmental pressure, the reduction of fuel consumption by higher efficiency appears a much more rewarding option. Available technologies could reduce the energy/km of new light duty vehicles by 30% in the next 15 to 20 years, if consumers alter their expectations regarding vehicle size, weight, and power. In the long term, electric cars will gain importance, and car design has the potential to reduce fuel demand further. Investments into integrated transport systems may take longer to become effective than those needed for fuel crop establishment and biofuel processing, but the long-term side effects would most probably be lower. In light of increasing transport demand, there seems to be no alternative but to increase the overall efficiency of the transport system.

Stocks, Flows, and Prospects of Land Recent Transport Biofuel Policies

So far, biofuel policies have been successful in pushing the development of feedstock farming and biofuel industries. Rural development has benefited in particular from stationary use of biofuels. As biofuels generally face much higher costs than fossil fuels, governments have largely approached biofuel development with a wide variety of support mechanisms, including subsidies, tariffs and tax exemptions, as well as blending quota and other incentives and preferences.

There are big differences in costs and benefits among the different types of transport biofuels, depending on the scale of production and where and how they are produced. So far, biofuels for transport have had a rather limited impact on fossil fuel substitution and greenhouse gas mitigation. For this purpose, other more cost-efficient technologies exist. For instance, according to OECD, subsidization in the U.S., Canada and the EU—not taking into account other objectives targeted with the same support—represents between US$ 960 and 1,700 per tonne of CO2eq avoided in those countries. In contrast, the carbon value in European and U.S. carbon markets, ranging between roughly 20-30 EUR in the first half of 2008, indicates clearly that other technologies are available which reduce greenhouse gas emissions much more economically.

To cope with rising concerns of unwanted side effects of biofuels, some countries have started to bind targets and blending mandates to criteria requiring a net environmental benefit of the biofuels used. These standards and certifications rely on methods based on life cycle assessment (LCA) and often account only for selected impacts along the production chain. Further efforts in research and standard setting are needed to consider not only greenhouse gas effects but also other impacts (e.g., eutrophication) more comprehensively. Whereas the improvement of the life-cycle wide performance of biofuels (the "vertical dimension" at micro level) may be fostered by certification, such product standards are not sufficient to avoid land use changes through increased demand for fuel crops (the "horizontal dimension" at macro level). For that purpose, other policy instruments are needed that foster, on the one hand, sustainable land use patterns and, on the other, adjust the demand to levels which can be supplied by sustainable production (Bringzu et al. 2009b).

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