An integrated assessment of a large-scale biodiesel production in Italy: Killing several birds with one stone?
Biofuels are often presented as a contribution towards the solution of the problems related to our strong dependency on fossil fuels, i.e. greenhouse effect, energy dependency, urban pollution, besides being a way to support rural development. In this paper, an integrated assessment approach is employed to discuss the social desirability of a large-scale biodiesel production in Italy, taking into account social, environmental and economic factors. The conclusion is that the advantages in terms of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy dependency and urban pollution would be very modest. The small benefits would not be enough to offset the huge costs in terms of land requirement: if the target of the European Directive 2003/30/EC were reached (5.75% of the energy used for transport by 2010) the equivalent of about one-third of the Italian agricultural land would be needed. The consequences would be a considerable increase in food imports and large environmental impacts in the agricultural phase. Also, since biodiesel must be de-taxed in order to make it competitive with oil-derived diesel, the Italian energy revenues would be reduced. In the end, rural development remains the only sound reason to promote biodiesel, but even for this objective other strategies look more advisable, like supporting organic agriculture.
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