European biofuel policies may increase biological invasions
Piero Genovesi, Chair of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Invasive Species Specialist Group has published a report on the increased risk of biological invasions due to European biofuel policies. This report is summarized below.
In order to respond to climate change by reducing CO2 emissions, the EU has recently adopted policies that encourage the expansion of non-food or non-feed crops. According to the “climate and energy package”, the European Parliament and Council require by law a 20% cut in emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020, compared with the 1990 levels. Meeting these targets will require a significant change in the use of land in Europe, which may cause both direct and indirect negative environmental effects, because of the changes in the use of semi-natural habitats, or of the overall loss of forest areas. The potential increase in invasions that biofuel plants may cause has been scarcely considered in the European context. In fact, biofuel crops are selected for many biological traits which are common in invasive species: adaptability to poor quality habitats, rapid growth, high seed production, resistance to pests, etc. The European Union has a political mandate to develop a regional policy on invasive alien species that should cover the biofuels issue. The key elements to control the introduction of biofuel crops could be ensured by either adapting the existing legislations on plant health, by creating a new sectorial policy on biofuels, or by integrating these aspects in a comprehensive European policy on invasive alien species. One example of a recent sectorial policy that follows similar principles to those recommended for biofuel, is the aquaculture regulation 708/2007 of 11 June 2007. This legislation has introduced a ban on the introduction of any alien species used for aquaculture, unless a detailed risk assessment has proven that the species is at low risk of becoming invasive. It is interesting to notice that this innovative approach for Europe has been applied to a sector with a significant economic value.
Genovesi P (2010) European biofuel policies may increase biological invasions: the risk of inertia. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 3, 1-5.