United Nations report outlines the trouble with biofuels

Remember how biofuels were going to save us? That lasted about as long as an ice cream cone on a hot day. A new United Nations report says the switch to biofuels, if not well managed, could lead to rampant deforestation, food and water shortages, and increased poverty. It also says using biofuels for heat and power is a better and cheaper way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions than using them for transportation. With demand exploding, 17 countries have committed to growing crops like palm oil, corn, and soy on a large scale. But, the U.N. warns, that could lead to erosion, nutrient leaching, and — if the crops replace forests — “large releases of carbon from the soil and forest biomass that negate any benefits of biofuels for decades.” On the upside, biofuels do hold the promise of making clean energy available to millions. But the U.N. recommends a certification program for an industry that is, says U.N. energy coordinator Gustavo Best, “so fast and so disorganized … and so misinformed.”