Wetlands International

Policy brief on indirect land use change and Peatlands

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Courtesy of Wetlands International

Biofuel production on peatlands increases greenhouse gas emissions

Wetlands International recognises a potential role for biofuels in terms of emission reductions compared to fossil fuels. However, under current practice, biofuels often have large negative impacts on (high carbon) natural ecosystems. In such cases, the expansion of biofuel crop production leads to higher rather than lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when compared to fossil fuels, due to both direct and indirect impacts.

This is specifically the case if biofuel crops are grown on peatlands (direct land use and land-use change) or if the existing agricultural land that is replaced by a biofuel crop expands into high carbon ecosystems (forests and/or peatland) elsewhere (indirect land use change) to meet the demand for food and feed crops, thereby emitting large amounts of GHGs.

Direct and indirect impacts of biofuel crops in terms of emissions are similar and depend on the area of land that is affected, the forest type that is converted and/or the peat drainage depth. The two main sources of emissions are:

  1. the conversion of forest – in case a forest is removed for the biofuel crop (direct) or in case a crop is displaced by the biofuel crop (indirect); and/or
  2. drainage of peatland for the biofuel crop (direct) or for the crop that is displaced by the biofuel crop (indirect).

Additional sources of emissions are peat fires and forest fires that are triggered by peatland drainage, as well as off-site impacts as a result of peat drainage.

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