Biofuels, climate change and industrial development: Can the tropical South build 2000 biorefineries in the next decade?

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Biofuels are important because they span three of the greatest issues of our time-world industrial development; energy security and the transition to a bioeconomy; and global warming. Biofuels have something important to contribute as a solution in each of these three areas-without being a 'magic bullet' or the whole of the solution in any of them. Indeed, biofuels may be a transitory solution that will phase out after two or three decades as new electric-powered transport systems take over. But in the meantime, biofuels have the potential to bring together North and South in a new Biopact of transcendent significance, promising to allow countries of the South to lift themselves out of poverty through biofuel cultivation, processing and export; and countries of the North to solve their transport and global warming problems by opening up to biofuels produced sustainably and responsibly from the tropical South. A goal of 2000 biorefineries over the course of the next decade is entirely realistic: their output would be of the order of 400 billion liters of ethanol and/or biodiesel, or about one fifth of OECD countries' current transport fuel requirements. The investment required would be of the order of US$240 billion over a decade-compared with the more than $470 billion expected by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to be invested in the oil and gas industry in a single year by 2010. In this light, the investment required is modest. Such an investment can only be undertaken if markets in the North are guaranteed. The best means of achieving such an investment-grade guarantee is through a comprehensive global trade agreement. But the prospects for such an agreement are vitiated by the cacophony of opposition to biofuels raised in the North, by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and vested interests, who are raising hysterical concerns over the transition from fossil fuels to biofuels, and stand accused of seeking industrial protection under the guise of environmental concerns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-125
Number of pages23
JournalBiofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008


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