Page last updated at 21:18 GMT, Monday, 26 May 2008 22:18 UK

WWF urges Brazil biofuel caution

By Tim Hirsch
BBC News, Sao Paulo

A machine cuts sugar cane in Batatais, Brazil, file photo from 28 August, 2007
Brazil's massive cane production has raised environmental concerns

New protected areas must be created to prevent environmental damage from the expansion of Brazilian sugar cane, says the conservation group WWF.

The production of ethanol from sugar cane for biofuel production should have a positive impact on the environment, WWF Brazil says in a new report.

The report argues that ethanol from sugar cane is much more efficient than other biofuels.

But it adds careful planning is needed to prevent damage to local ecosystems.

Brazil's sugar industry and its government claim the country's growing ethanol industry does not suffer from the two main criticisms of biofuels - that they displace food crops and destroy ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest.

Strict rules

The WWF's report mainly backs up those claims, saying that ethanol production is not having a significant impact on food production, and that it is not contributing to deforestation in the Amazon.

But the report does warn that at a regional level, the rapid expansion of sugar cane plantations in areas such as the state of Sao Paulo could potentially cause problems such as loss of biological diversity and pressure on water resources.

To avoid this, the report argues for strict rules on where the expansion can take place, aimed at safeguarding remaining forest and savannah areas.

It calls for the setting up of a new network of protected areas in the regions where sugar cane is expanding, such as in the Cerrado or Brazilian savannah, which is considered one of the most important areas for biodiversity in the world.

At the event in Sao Paulo where the report was launched, one agricultural specialist claimed the report under-estimated the indirect impacts that ethanol expansion could have - such as displacing the production of food such as beef and soya - and adding to the pressure on the Amazon.

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