Nature Kenya Policy Brief on Biofuels

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By Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society

Nature Kenya recognizes the Government of Kenya’s concern about Climate Change, and efforts to promote Green Development. We support the Government’s exploration of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass from waste materials. However, we urge caution in the case of biofuel crops such as Jatropha curcas. Biofuels – fuel from living plants rather than ancient ones fossilized as coal or petroleum – have been aggressively promoted in the last decade. Biofuels grown on a commercial scale, however, turn out to have more disadvantages than advantages.

Biofuel crops worsen rather than reduce global warming. In industrialized countries, more energy is used and more greenhouse gases emitted in producing biofuels than can be saved through their use. Tropical forests are cut to plant biofuel crops, thus exacerbating the very problem of climate change that they are meant to solve.

Biofuel crops threaten food security. Biofuel production was a direct contributor to the recent world food shortage, as farmland was used to grow biofuels instead of crops.

Destroying tropical forests and other natural habitats also destroys biodiversity. Biodiversity encompasses animals, plants and micro-organisms, the genes within them, the ecosystems of which they are part, and the interactions among them. Biodiversity is the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the homes we build, the medicines that heal us. What other sources of food, fuel, fibre, or medicine are lying yet undiscovered among the plants, animals and micro-organisms of our natural habitats?

Nature Kenya proposes the following guidelines for growing biofuel crops on a commercial scale:

1. Develop policy and regulations on sustainable production of biofuel crops, based on scientific evidence, before any commercial biofuel projects are approved.

2. Require an in-depth Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for any large-scale biofuel project.

3. Take into account the cumulative impacts of all land use projects within a landscape or catchment – whether biofuel or food production, water and other development projects – when assessing a new project.

4. Require a cost-benefit analysis by a competent authority to assess whether growing a biofuel crop produces more carbon emissions than the fuel it will replace. Greenhouse gas emissions need to be calculated throughout the crop’s life cycle, from land clearing to marketing, and include both direct emissions and those caused by indirect land use change. By following EU biofuel sustainability guidelines as a minimum, Kenya will maintain its reputation and favourable investment potential.

5. Involve professionals and research institutions at all stages of testing emerging and locally untested biofuel crops.
6. Reject biofuel projects that deny local communities rights to the land on which they live.

7. Prioritise conservation of Kenya’s unique forests, woodlands, grasslands and wetlands as prime land use, in order to mitigate carbon emissions and maintain income from tourism. Only small areas of Kenya are agro-climatically suitable for biofuel crops, and wildlife tourism has much greater foreign exchange earning potential than biofuels.

8. Do not allow biofuel production on land that:

  • Serves as a water catchment.
  • Stores and sequesters carbon and therefore has a role in climate change mitigation. Such areas include forests, wetlands, woodlands and grasslands.
  • Contains rare and endangered species or high levels of biodiversity. Such areas include National Parks, Forest Reserves, Important Bird Areas, Key Biodiversity Areas and sites qualifying for protection under international conventions.
  • Is currently under food crops or livestock grazing.
  • Has cultural or religious significance to the local people.

Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society March 2012

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