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Environmental risk analysis of crops for biofuels in the UK

Environmental risk analysis of crops for biofuels in the UK
Environmental risk analysis of crops for biofuels in the UK
The past two decades have witnessed significant growth in attention and investment in renewable energy technologies. Replacement of fossil fuels that have long dominated our energy production is favoured as resources are known to be finite and dwindling, leading to increasing prices, as well as the link between their use and global climate change. In 2011, transport accounted for 38% of total national energy consumption with petroleum being the single most used fuel. In terms of how energy use by transport relates to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; in 2011 transport consumed around 55.19 million tonnes of oil equivalent and provisional estimates put emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) at 119 million tonnes (over one quarter of total national CO2 emissions). As a result, biofuels have been increasingly appearing on the agendas of both governments and scientists, and have been picked up by the media and various environmental organisations as a possible means for reducing the GHG contribution from transport. However, the issue is not simple, and there are many who oppose the use of biofuels for various reasons. There are concerns that without a concerted effort to improve the state of knowledge of potential risks and benefits of biofuels, the appropriate long-term development of the technology in the UK may be hindered. The project presented in this thesis was designed to undertake an investigation to identify relevant risks and issues that could inform a risk analysis of the future development, production and use of biofuels in the UK. In the context of biofuels, there is a large and increasing literature in which the associated risks are characterised and assessed scientifically. However, very little research has been done looking at stakeholder opinions, particularly with the public as stakeholders. Increasingly, the media, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the public are concerned about environmental issues and large technological developments that affect the environment and themselves. If any of these groups oppose plans and decisions made then it is possible that they can cause significant disruption or halt progress, despite scientific evidence. Through a series of social science methods involving stakeholders, this project has endeavoured to cast light on the broader understanding and perception of biofuels beyond the academic and research communities and their publications. The primary novel contribution of the thesis is in the insights provided into public awareness, attitudes and perceptions of biofuels, which have previously not been studied in any depth. The data collected and issues identified could potentially be very useful in informing a risk analysis exercise.
Working in collaboration with the general public, through focus groups and questionnaires revealed widespread, low level awareness and knowledge of biofuels but little in the way of accurate detailed knowledge of impacts and risks. Public concerns were largely focussed on environmental impacts and personal financial impacts, and their views
were almost exclusively informed by mass-media sources such as newspapers and television. There was also some evidence of misinformation and awareness of issues that were not considered to be risks by the scientific literature, as well as notable exaggeration of known risks.
Public attitudes were deemed to be quite dated, strongly reflecting the view of biofuels presented by the media around 2008, when a number of critical studies were published and shook global confidence in biofuels. With the onset of the global recession, media coverage of biofuels has dropped significantly, and as such, the public have not been exposed to developments in the field.
Interviews with expert stakeholders revealed a different picture to the public, and highlighted a completely different perspective – that of threats and risks to the future of biofuels, rather than biofuels as a threat or risk themselves. There was a strong perception amongst the expert stakeholders that the UK and EU governments presented a significant barrier to the potential for biofuels to develop and expand in Europe. Lack of government interest, confidence and action were cited as significant failings that hindered investment necessary to grow a strong biofuel industry.
Recommendations for future developments and expansion of biofuels within the EU, should this be deemed appropriate and acceptable, focus on increased government involvement and support to encourage investments that will allow further improvements in the biofuel production process, as well as significant changes in the way scientific information is communicated to the public.
Shepherd, Elizabeth
7919760b-1221-46c5-9792-5cae3b0ca571
Shepherd, Elizabeth
7919760b-1221-46c5-9792-5cae3b0ca571
Poppy, Guy
e18524cf-10ae-4ab4-b50c-e73e7d841389

(2012) Environmental risk analysis of crops for biofuels in the UK. University of Southampton, Biological Sciences, Doctoral Thesis, 337pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

The past two decades have witnessed significant growth in attention and investment in renewable energy technologies. Replacement of fossil fuels that have long dominated our energy production is favoured as resources are known to be finite and dwindling, leading to increasing prices, as well as the link between their use and global climate change. In 2011, transport accounted for 38% of total national energy consumption with petroleum being the single most used fuel. In terms of how energy use by transport relates to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; in 2011 transport consumed around 55.19 million tonnes of oil equivalent and provisional estimates put emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) at 119 million tonnes (over one quarter of total national CO2 emissions). As a result, biofuels have been increasingly appearing on the agendas of both governments and scientists, and have been picked up by the media and various environmental organisations as a possible means for reducing the GHG contribution from transport. However, the issue is not simple, and there are many who oppose the use of biofuels for various reasons. There are concerns that without a concerted effort to improve the state of knowledge of potential risks and benefits of biofuels, the appropriate long-term development of the technology in the UK may be hindered. The project presented in this thesis was designed to undertake an investigation to identify relevant risks and issues that could inform a risk analysis of the future development, production and use of biofuels in the UK. In the context of biofuels, there is a large and increasing literature in which the associated risks are characterised and assessed scientifically. However, very little research has been done looking at stakeholder opinions, particularly with the public as stakeholders. Increasingly, the media, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the public are concerned about environmental issues and large technological developments that affect the environment and themselves. If any of these groups oppose plans and decisions made then it is possible that they can cause significant disruption or halt progress, despite scientific evidence. Through a series of social science methods involving stakeholders, this project has endeavoured to cast light on the broader understanding and perception of biofuels beyond the academic and research communities and their publications. The primary novel contribution of the thesis is in the insights provided into public awareness, attitudes and perceptions of biofuels, which have previously not been studied in any depth. The data collected and issues identified could potentially be very useful in informing a risk analysis exercise.
Working in collaboration with the general public, through focus groups and questionnaires revealed widespread, low level awareness and knowledge of biofuels but little in the way of accurate detailed knowledge of impacts and risks. Public concerns were largely focussed on environmental impacts and personal financial impacts, and their views
were almost exclusively informed by mass-media sources such as newspapers and television. There was also some evidence of misinformation and awareness of issues that were not considered to be risks by the scientific literature, as well as notable exaggeration of known risks.
Public attitudes were deemed to be quite dated, strongly reflecting the view of biofuels presented by the media around 2008, when a number of critical studies were published and shook global confidence in biofuels. With the onset of the global recession, media coverage of biofuels has dropped significantly, and as such, the public have not been exposed to developments in the field.
Interviews with expert stakeholders revealed a different picture to the public, and highlighted a completely different perspective – that of threats and risks to the future of biofuels, rather than biofuels as a threat or risk themselves. There was a strong perception amongst the expert stakeholders that the UK and EU governments presented a significant barrier to the potential for biofuels to develop and expand in Europe. Lack of government interest, confidence and action were cited as significant failings that hindered investment necessary to grow a strong biofuel industry.
Recommendations for future developments and expansion of biofuels within the EU, should this be deemed appropriate and acceptable, focus on increased government involvement and support to encourage investments that will allow further improvements in the biofuel production process, as well as significant changes in the way scientific information is communicated to the public.

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Published date: 31 December 2012
Organisations: University of Southampton, Centre for Biological Sciences

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 354429
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/354429
PURE UUID: 94cdd0d6-417c-492a-ae7b-bd89806875e7

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 21 Oct 2013 12:47
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 03:55

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Contributors

Author: Elizabeth Shepherd
Thesis advisor: Guy Poppy

University divisions

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