Publication Detail

Policy Options to Address Global Land Use Change from Biofuels


Journal Article

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS)

Suggested Citation:
Witcover, Julie, Sonia Yeh, Daniel Sperling (2013) Policy Options to Address Global Land Use Change from Biofuels. Energy Policy 56, 63 - 74

The use of biofuels can increase land competition, leading to global land use change (LUC). LUC poses risks such as increased greenhouse gas emissions and food prices. The magnitude of the risk is uncertain, but could be significant. Given these uncertainties and risks, we suggest that policymakers pursue a mix of the following three strategies: (1) promote feedstocks that rely less on land; (2) reduce LUC risk for land-using feedstocks; and (3) stimulate investments that increase land productivity and environmental protection. To realize these three strategies, we recommend that policymakers distinguish among feedstocks based on LUC risk; explore certifying production that avoids land competition; and adopt policy mechanisms that encourage investments in LUC-prone areas. We favor including feedstock-specific LUC emissions estimates in policies despite relatively large scientific uncertainty. While misleadingly precise, point estimates can be selected from science-based ranges to directly link LUC policy to emissions and provide strong transparent signals to biofuel investors. LUC emissions estimates can be updated regularly (∼3–5 years) to reflect improvements in scientific understanding, and global changes in policy and economic environments. With or without LUC emissions point estimates, additional policies, some outside the biofuel sector, will be needed to pursue the three strategies above.