The challenges of estimating tropical deforestation due to biofuel expansion

Yan Gao, Margaret Skutsch, Omar Masera

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


In this chapter, we attempt to assess the impacts of biofuel development on tropical deforestation by analyzing available tropical deforestation and biofuel production data.We identify the main biofuel production hotspots in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. We find that this task is extremely difficult because of the following methodological challenges. First, biofuel productionmay have either direct or indirect impacts on deforestation, and indirect deforestation can take place at both national and international levels. Second, measuring both deforestation and biofuel production accurately is difficult due to the lack of standard definitions and the lack of updated data setswith sufficient spatial resolution and global coverage. Third,many feedstocks used for biofuel production are multipurpose since they are produced for both food and fodder and for fuels; thus decisions on how much feedstock is devoted to any of the uses vary considerably over time, depending on market prices. Assessing the share of biofuel in the deforestation caused by such multi–end use crops is difficult; there are several different ways to allocate this burden. Fourth, deforestation is often caused by multiple drivers, of which in any given area biofuels (or biofuel production) may be just one. This chapter reviews the methodological difficulties in estimating the relationship between biofuel and deforestation in detail and considers both the wellestablished biofuel feedstocks, such as sugarcane for ethanol (in Brazil and Argentina) and palm oil for diesel (inMalaysia and Indonesia), and the emergent feedstocks, such as jatropha, which is expanding in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Latin America.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocioeconomic and environmental impacts of biofuels
Subtitle of host publicationevidence from developing nations
EditorsPer Stromberg, Alexandros Gasparatos
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages200
ISBN (Print)9781107009356
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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    Gao, Y., Skutsch, M., & Masera, O. (2012). The challenges of estimating tropical deforestation due to biofuel expansion. In P. Stromberg, & A. Gasparatos (Eds.), Socioeconomic and environmental impacts of biofuels: evidence from developing nations (pp. 90-108). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.