Researchers argue bioenergy crops could damage biodiversity

Research from Durham University has suggested that the increasing use of bioenergy could be just as damaging to global biodiversity as climate change.

Durham University researchers have suggested that familiar UK species including red squirrels, hedgehogs and red grouse could be affected by the increasing use of bioenergy. Researchers use palm oil production having a detrimental impact on orang-utan populations as an example of how bioenergy could affect wildlife if used excessively.

The university researchers suggest that if bioenergy were to be made more widely available, there would need to be an increase in the amount of bioenergy crops that are grown. Maize and palm oil would have to be produced on much larger scales.

Investigation into the potential impacts of land-use change that would be associated with growing more bioenergy crops has been studied. The study looks into the impact on all amphibians, birds and mammals on the planet.

Researchers say that they have found that together, both climate change and large-scale expansion of bioenergy crop growth would threaten habitats of approximately 36% of the before mentioned species.

Responding to the study, head of Biomass UK and a part of the Renewable Energy Association, Benedict McAleenan told Bioenergy Insight, “This is a useful study that shows the risks of not having robust regulation in place. But several governments have put in place monitoring and regulatory systems to protect biodiversity and avoid damaging land use change. The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive and the UK’s Sustainability Criteria are good examples. On top of that, certification schemes like the Sustainable Biomass Program help to prevent negative outcomes.

“The authors’ proposed solution – simply to use less energy – is a bit simplistic. We need well-regulated bioenergy from lots of different types of feedstock, as well as smarter management of energy supply and demand, more renewables and new technologies like carbon capture – all of which are helped by having bioenergy in the energy mix.”

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