Funding & Partnerships

Funding was also provided by Cornell University's Biogeochemistry and Biocomplexity Initiative and an endowment given to Cornell University by David R. Atkinson.

Project Overview

The worldwide use of liquid biofuels accelerated remarkably since the early part of the 21st Century. While most production today occurs in Brazil and the US, increased production is expected not only in these countries but throughout Europe, southeast Asia, and Africa in coming years. In response to environmental concerns over this expansion, the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) of the International Council of Science (ICSU) commissioned the International SCOPE Biofuels Project (2007-2010).

Liquid biofuels have been heavily criticized for both as a fuel source and as a “greener” fuel alternative. Much of the criticism has focused on first-generation ethanol (i.e ethanol produced from corn) and many articles in both the scientific literature and the popular press have reported on a host of environmental problems associated with this technology. Potential issues with ethanol produced from sugarcane, biodiesel produced from oil palms, soya bean, and other crops, and with “second-generation” ethanol produced from cellulose, have received far less scrutiny and discussion so far. There are nonetheless potentially severe consequences on the environment from these technologies as well.

The charge of the International SCOPE Biofuels Project was to perform an objective, science-based assessment in order to provide a comprehensive, systematic, and comparative analysis of the environmental benefits and costs of biofuel technologies. The project was conducted both at the global and sub-global levels, so as to take into account specific physical and societal dimensions in the main regions of the world. The project evaluated both first and second-generation liquid fuels, including both ethanol and biodiesel. The project also evaluated gaseous biofuels (methane) and the use of solid biomass for energy (for example through pyrolysis and direct combustion).

The fundamental goal of the Project was to compile and synthesize the best available science-based objective information to address the question “what are the characteristics of an environmentally desirable and sustainable biofuel?” The Project held a planning meeting in Miami, Florida in 2007, held an international workshop in Gummersbach, Germany in 2008, and published a consensus report in 2009. Output from the Project also informed the 2009 report from UNEP on biofuels.

Robert W. Howarth
Chair, SCOPE International Biofuels Project


Biofuels: Environmental Consequences and Interactions with Changing Land Use

Download the pdf file, free of charge.

Or purchase a printed copy

View the UNESCO/SCOPE/UNEP Policy Brief

UNEP produced a report on biofuels later in 2009 that relied on the SCOPE report for much of its science base.
Bringezu et al, 2009. Towards Sustainable Production and Use of Resources: Assessing Biofuels. International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, United Nations Environment Program, Paris, France.


RAP Prospectus (pdf)

SCOPE/UNESCO Policy Brief (Forthcoming)

Proceedings volume


M. Otto (UNEP)
Bio-energy: risks and opportunities
22 Sept 2008.

J. McNeely (IUCN)
Biofuels, biodiversity, and energy security: what are the environmental impacts?
23 Sept. 2008

L.Maene (IFA)
Implications of biofuels for nutrient cycling in agriculture
23 Sept. 2008

L.A. Martinelli, R. Victoria (CENA)
Expansion of sugarcane in Brazil: environmental and social implications
24 Sept. 2008

C. Field (Carnegie Inst.)
Biomass energy: the climate protective domain
24 Sept. 2008

Rapid Assessment Process (RAP) on Biofuels and the Environment

Workshop held 22-25 September 2008
Grand City Hotel, Gummersbach, Germany

Co-Chaired by:
Robert W. Howarth, Cornell University
Stefan Bringezu, Wuppertal Institute

The SCOPE Rapid Assessment Process (RAP) workshop brought together a group of nearly 40 high calibre, international experts to deliberate on the key environmental impacts of biofuels production and expansion and future perspectives of more sustainable biofuel systems. Cross-cutting economic and social aspects were discussed as well. The results from the deliberations provided policy relevant information to support decision making by industry, national governments, international institutions and NGOs and was published in a SCOPE Policy Brief.

Prior to the workshop, expert authors were invited to provide papers (1 per author) on key issues as input to the meeting. Workshop participants discussed the various concerns from different perspectives, while focusing on three to four cross-cutting questions. The workshop was scheduled such that 2 working groups met at any given time, allowing participants to take part in at least 2 groups - a scheme similar to the proven Dahlem conferences. Session chairs and rapporteurs ensured a productive outcome, kept track of the record, and synthesised results in a well-balanced and thorough manner. At the end of the workshop the key content of the proceedings was drafted along with the SCOPE-UNESCO Policy Brief. The entire volume underwent subsequent review, refinement, and editing prior to publication of the final volume in April of 2009.

RAP Participants


Robert W. Howarth
Cornell University
Stefan Bringezu
Wuppertal Institute
Mateete Bekunda
Dept. of Soil Science
Makerere Univ. UGA
Herman Lotze-Campen
Potsdam Institute for Climate
Impact Research DEU
Osvaldo E. Sala
Dept. of Ecology & Evol. Biology
Brown University USA
Antonio Bento
Applied Economics & Management
Cornell Univ. USA
Luc Maene
International Fertilizer Industry
Association FRA
Jon Samseth
Norwegian Univ. of Sci. & Tech./
SINTEF Materials and Tech. NOR
Jens Born
Institute for Chem Technology
Flensburg Univ. of Applied Sci. DEU
Luiz Martinelli
Centro de Energia Nuclear na Agricultura (CENA)
Univ. of Sao Paulo BRA
Timothy D. Searchinger
Woodrow Wilson School
Princeton Univ. USA
Mercedes Bustamante
Department of Biology
Univ. of Brazil BRA
Jeff McNeely
World Conservation Union
Tom W. Simpson
Water Stewardship Inc./
University of Maryland USA
David J. Connor
School of Land & Environ. Mngmt.
Univ. of Melbourne AUS
Jerry Melillo
The Ecosystems Center
Marine Biological Lab, Woods Hole (USA)
Graeme Sweeney
Shell Renewables/ Shell Hydrogen
Royal Dutch Shell GBR
Charlotte de Fraiture
International Water Management Institute LKA
Darran Messem
Fuel Development
Shell International Petroleum GBR
Jeff Tschirley
Environ. Assessment & Mngmt.
Food & Agriclture Organization of the U.N. (FAO) ITA
Chris Field
Dept. of Global Ecology
Carnegie Institute, Stanford Univ. USA
Dennis Ojima
The H. John Heinz II Center for
Science, Economics, and the Environment USA
Leah Vanwey
Dept of Sociology & Environmental Change Initiative
Brown Univ. USA
Lin Gan
Center for Intl Climate & Environ. Research-OSLO (CICERO)
Univ. of Oslo SWE
Martina Otto
Energy & Transport Policy Unit
Reynaldo Victoria
Centro de Energia Nuclear na Agricultura (CENA)
Univ. of Sao Paulo BRA
Yvan Hardy
UNEP Intl Panel on Sustainable
Mngmt. of. Natural Res. CAN
Cheryl A. Palm
Earth Institute
Columbia Univ. USA
Helen Watson
School of Environmental Science
Univ. of KwaZulu-Natal ZAF
Eric Lambin
Dept. of Geography
Univ. of Louvain BEL
Jan-Erik Petersen
Agriculture & Environment
European Environmental Agency DNK
Jeremy Woods
Porter Alliance
Imperial College GBR
Paul Leadley
Ecology of Populations & Community
Univ. of Paris South FRA
Stephen Porder
Dept. of Ecology & Evol. Biology
Brown Univ. USA
Mark Mba Wright
Center for Sustainable Environ. Technologies
Iowa State Univ. USA
Adrian Leip
Climate Change Unit
EC Joint Research Center ITA
N.H. Ravindranath
Centre for Sustainable Technologies/
Indian Institute of Science IND