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  • Brazil and Paying the Carbon Debt

    2010 - 04.22

    A study published on 8th February claimed that the extent of plantations to produce biofuels could create a carbon debt that the country would take more than two centuries to pay. The authors of the study predict that the production of ethanol and biodiesel will be responsible for roughly half of the 121,970 square kilometres of deforestation projected for 2020.

    They came to this figure by calculating that although plantations of crops such as sugar and soybeans occupy land previously used as pastures, cattle would then be pushed  onto newly cleared land.

    The lead author of the study, David Lapola from the University of Kassel stated that results of the statistical data are so harmful in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, which are produced by forest loss that it would be better to continue using fossil fuels.

    “This analysis tells us that we have no carbon dioxide reductions within the next 250 years, if biofuels are used in Brazil and not avoided indirect changes they produce on the land use, “said the researcher.

    Due to the high productivity of oil for feedstock the authors of the report found that palm oil would be a more cost effective option. To satisfy the demand for 2020 biodiesel proposal by the Brazilian government the researchers predict that palm oil would require 4,200 square kilometres of plantation land compared with more than 100,000 square kilometres needed for soybeans. The authors also suggested a 6% increase in the density of cattle per hectare across the country in order to prevent further outbreaks of deforestation over the next ten years.

    For Lapola he believes it is not worth continuing the expansion of new plantations to produce ethanol and biodiesel if Brazil doesn’t achieve a balance between biofuel production and the use of land. In his opinion the benefits would only be short term in the case of achieving a balance.

    “I do not think in 2100 we are able to generate power for fifteen billion people through sugar cane or palm oil. Biofuels are a good solution to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in coming decades, but in the long term, humanity will have to find another source of energy.

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