Saturday, November 25, 2006

Report of the Week: Growing in the Greenhouse

This weeks report of the week is Growing in the Greenhouse by the World Resources Institute.

A very interesting an informative report that somehow managed to evade me for an entire year!
I`m reading it for what it has to say on carbon capture and storage (CCS) in asia and the growth in car travel, perticularly in China.

There is an audio summary on this report here.

This report explores an approach to reconciling development and climate
priorities, termed sustainable development policies and measures (SD-PAMs).

This approach was first put forward in this form by Winkler et al.
(2002) and describes policies and measures that are firmly within the national
sustainable development priorities of the host country, but through inclusion in
an international climate framework seeks to recognize, promote and support means of meeting these policy priorities on a lower-carbon trajectory.

approach has been the subject of some discussion within the climate change
literature and has been presented as a component of a climate regime by the
Climate Action Network (2003), among others. It has thus entered the climate
policy vocabulary. However, a great deal of work remains to be done to explore
the operational implications of SD-PAMs as part of an international policy

This report is a contribution to that effort. We first discuss the
merits and limitations of SD-PAMs (Chapter 1) and how an SD-PAMs pledging
process might fit within the international policy context (Chapter 2). We then
examine in detail four case studies of policy options in developing countries:
Brazil’s use of biofuels for transport (Chapter 3), efficient urban transport in
China (Chapter 4), options for rural electrification in India (Chapter 5) and
carbon capture and storage in South Africa (Chapter 6).

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At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Growing in the Greenhouse' sets out Brazil's ethanol indutry as an example. If this is an example for climate-friendly growth then I'd rather not see any of it. Brazil's sugar ethanol sector has driven the destruction of the Atlantic Forest (not over 90% destroyed - a biodiversity hotspot, according to WWF). the Cerrado (the most biodiverse savannah in the world, now mostly destroyed) and the Pantanal wetlands. Brazilian sugar is very profitable indeed, with the most appalling working conditions (reports of slavery and child labour, women being told they must get sterilised or lose their jobs, terrible health impacts), water pollution is awful, air pollution causes respiratory problems as all the vegetations is burnt to grow the sugar. Yet at so many UN Conferences, other countries are told they should emulate this example. And the UK have partnership with Brazil to implement similar policies in southern Africa.


At 4:20 PM, Blogger Calvin Jones said...

Hi Almuth,

As always, i`m very glad to hear your comments, i'm know very little about the details of ethanol in Brazil, all i have heard has been pretty posotive.

From what i've read about the amazon there seem to be a range of drivers to deforestation, with sugar cane not being one of them but i`m not sure about the Atlantic Forest and Pantanal.

In the case of the Atlantic forest I have read a WWF report about the destruction due to soya, mentions of coffe and subsistance agriculture where also made.

If you could send me a reference in relation to this statement then i would be very interested:

"Brazil's sugar ethanol sector has driven the destruction of the Atlantic Forest (not over 90% destroyed - a biodiversity hotspot, according to WWF)"

At 6:42 PM, Blogger Calvin Jones said...

I'll get back to you on this - I am away from home right now. But as an
interim reply: sugar cane was responsible for a good part of the
destruction of over 90 % of the Atlantic Forest, yes, but it had nothing
to do with biofuel as the forest was gone long before the cane producers
started producing ethanol in the late 1970s
There are other issues about ethanol from sugar as a biofuel but the
destruction of the forest is not one of them

Best wishes
Robin Le Breton
Iracambi Atlantic Rainforest Research and Conservation Center

At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a good background article:

Also, see here:

And here:

Sorry I wrote this a bit quickly: I didn't mean that ethanol was behind the destruction of 90% of the Atlantic Forest, but that sugar plantations were one of the drivers behind it and ethanol has accounted for a sizeable share of the market for Brazilian sugar (40% at present, I believe).

I'm interested in what Robert le Breton says about deforestation in the Atlantic Forest not being linked to sugar ethanol. I have read in various sources that deforestation has been ongoing and a fair proportion of it is for land conversion to sugar cane. See here, for example:

I don't see how one can distinguish between 'deforestation for ethanol' and 'deforestation for non-ethanol sugar plantations' - ultimately the marekt is driven by overall demand and ethanol is responsible for a large market share.


At 10:02 AM, Blogger Calvin Jones said...

Note: Rhett Defers to "someone on the ground". This is not a the case of Almuth, although i`m sure her work is well researched.

Hi Calvin,

To be honest I don't know a whole lot about the specific impact of sugar cane biofuel in Brazil on forests, but I would think that it would likely put pressure on forests either directly or more likely, indirectly by pushing poor farmers to cut trees for subsistence agriculture since "good" land is used by sugar cane farmers and cattle ranchers. I don't know if current sugar cane production is occurring on newly cleared land -- I would have to defer to someone who knows the situation on the ground.

Biofuels in tropical countries (i.e. soybeans in the Amazon rainforest and cerrado, and oil palm in southeast Asia) often involve these issues (actually the same would probably be true outside the tropics if we hadn't already cleared our wildlands for agriculture). Biofuels certainly have positive attributes, especially when they are developed on already degraded lands, but there are serious concerns when natural ecosystems are converted for their production. In these cases do the benefits of using biofuels versus fossil fuels outweigh biodiversity loss and disruption of ecological services? Probably not, though I am not familiar enough with the situation to know for sure. The social issues associated with plantations ("virtual slavery") in some parts of the world are particularly alarming as well.

If one could ensure that biofuel production occurred only on degraded lands and waste/pollution/effluent could be minimized/reused then I think there's a lot to be said for bioethanol. I don't think we're there yet though.

Does this answer your question?



At 8:56 PM, Blogger Calvin Jones said...

Dear Calvin,

Thank you for your inquiry. Below are several links to recent Earth Policy Institute publications concerning biofuels:

Lester Brown also wrote about ethanol in his most recent book, Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble (2006), which is online at See Chapter 2 in particular.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.


Liz Mygatt


Elizabeth Mygatt

Earth Policy Institute

1350 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 403

Washington, DC 20036


At 12:54 AM, Blogger Calvin Jones said...

Robin made good on her word and sent me this email as a followup.
well, just to finish the conversation: there are some other issues about
ethanol that need to be considered:
(1) if you take into account the economic value of the fossil fuels used in
the production of sugar cane - the tractors in the fields, the fuel costs
of the factory etc etc - does the calculation still come out with a plus
for ethanol? Personally I am not sure because different people use
different figures and get different results, so it is a question that needs
to be answered.
(2) there is a socio-economic issue about land tenure in the Northeast of
Brazil where many of the big sugar estates are. They occupy a lot of land
so that there is no space for small scale family agriculture in these
areas. The question in economic terms is which production system is more
productive 0 large scale sugar estate, or small scale subsistence
agriculture? And if it is the former, what are the options for the
resulting landless people of the area?
(3) like soy beans, withe new higher prices, farmers are finding sugar
attractive in areas where it wasn't attractive before and therefore wan to
move into areas that may not be suitable for other ecological reasons, One
example is the Pantanal where the sugar industry wants to build some sugar
factories, Bit it is a highly sensitive ecosystem, particularly sensitive
to water pollution, and sugar factories are potentially big polluters, They
should be allowed there, or not?

We don't want well intentioned but ill informed environmentalist in other
countries disrupting our economy by boycotting our products without
understanding the issues - we have already had experience of that and it
wasn't funny. Actually, we can't export much ethanol to the US because of
trade barriers, but of course we are campaigning to get these removed. But
if you're interested in the issues, you should be aware that there are
complex issues which are not always well explained in the press.

Best wishes


Centro de Pesquisas e Conservação Iracambi
Caixa Postal No.1
Rosário da Limeira
36878-000 Minas Gerais

At 4:57 AM, Anonymous Patrick Kennedy said...

Calvin asked me if I would like to add to this post. I am not an expert on ethanol in Brazil but nevertheless here are a few things that come to mind.

1. According to information presented at a United Nations Environment Program workshop, deforestation is causing about 20% of annual emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. A study published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences found that over the last 15 years, Brazil and Indonesia were the largest contributors to deforestation. I do not know if the recent deforestation in Brazil has anything to do with ethanol production.

2. In the United States where I live, ethanol is starting to become very popular. Currently, the reasons have mostly to do with the cost of oil, the economic boost ethanol production gives to farmers who grow corn and the desire for energy independence. In the future, it is very likely that the potential for ethanol and other biofuels to help fight global warming will also contribute to ethanols growing popularity. I have heard some of our policiticans say that we should drop or relax restrictions on imported sugar which could be used to produce ethanol (and for other uses). While it is most likely that the U.S. will look for domestically produced feedstock to make ethanol, it is not impossible that we would look to import feedstock as well. If at some point the U.S. drops or relaxes restriction on imported sugar, that could create new demand for Brazilian sugar. If that happened,while it would benefit the Brazilian sugar growers, it may aggravate the Brazil deforestation problem . Biofuels are becoming increasingly popular all around the world and countries that have limited agricultural capacity (e.g. Japan) might look to import feedstocks like Brazilian sugar for ethanol production.

3. What all this suggests to me is that, while producing ethanol (or other biofuels) from farm products has many benefits, including environmental benefits such as combating global warming, it requires careful planning to do it right.

Is anybody doing this careful planning?

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Rob Bradley said...

Dear all,

I'm gratified that our publication should have attracted so much response. I'd like to comment on three issues that have been raised on this blog: deforestation, labor conditions and energy balance.

The issue of the ethanol market and its effect as a driver for deforestation is one that has not had enough serious analysis. It's a fair criticism that much Brazilian analysis on the biofuels sector (including, to be honest, our Brazilian authors from the University of Sao Paulo) has underplayed the role of biofuels in driving deforestation in tropical regions. However, neither is it right to suggest that the ethanol programs as such have been behind the destruction of the Atlantic rainforest.

Land issues in Brazil are a highly complex issue, both in terms of understanding the data and in getting to grips with the political and moral issues around Brazilian land ownership. My impression is that there has yet to be a satisfactory analysis of the drivers of deforestation in Brazil, but the basic points are:
1. Sugar and ethanol production do not occur near the Atlantic or Amazon rainforests, nor near the Pantanal. Trees are not chopped down directly for the ethanol business.
2. Conversely, it clearly takes up land, displacing other agriculture. Sao Paulo, the most populous state, has given up much of its agricultural land to sugar cane, but it has not given up eating soy or beef, so clearly it adds to land pressures elsewhere.
3. How those pressures lead to deforestation is complex. Brazil is a major exporter of ag products, and these are driven by world prices. It's not a purely domestic matter, so it's not correct to think that 1Ha sugar cane = 1 Ha of displaced soya production (or whatever) elsewhere in Brazil.

As for labour issues, this is tough. There are definitely cases of abusive labour practices in Brazilian agriculture, as there are in many industries, particularly in developing countries. It is tempting for those in richer countries to point to such instances and imagine that without those industries life would be great. Wages in the sugar ethanol sector are higher than the average for the agricultural sector. While abuses almost certainly do happen, I have seen no evidence that the ethanol sector is a cause of this. Brazil, like other developing countries, needs to develop its employee protection further, especially in rural areas. But is anyone seriously suggesting that if these (relatively well-paid) jobs disappeared the rural poor would be better off?

There is a major problem in Brazil over land ownership and rights. Again, this is a massive political and moral issue dating from the colonial period. It is not a function of ethanol production, and if ethanol went away it would not change land ownership structures one bit.

Finally, Robin is mistaken about the energy content of biofuels. This IS a major question in the United States, where ethanol is made from corn. This is a crazy way to make ethanol, and you only get 1.2 or 1.3 units of energy out for every unit of energy you put in. However, with Brazilian ethanol it's very different - you get some 7 to 9 units out per unit of energy used in the process. Since much of the energy in the process is derived from burning the fibrous parts of the sugar cane itself this produces great energy and climate benefits.

All in all, others in this discussion have been right to raise issues of land use, which we need to understand better, but in terms of energy and impacts on the rural economy the critiques are overstated. Biofuels cannot be expanded indefinitely without having major impacts.

Two final thoughts. First, different biofuels have very different impacts. I worry A LOT about oil palms for biodiesel, which do seem to be a major driver of deforestation in South East Asia. Second, please compare biofuels not to nothing but to other forms of energy. It is a fact that ANY technology to provide energy on the massive scale that the world uses it will have major impacts on people and the environment. We should try to minimise energy consumption to keep those impacts down, but they will alwasy be huge. So don't measure biofuels against the Garden of Eden, but against the alternatives.

Thanks everyone for the discussion.



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