The sweet fight against climate change


We all know that too much sugar is bad for our health. But reducing its consumption could also have major benefits in the fight against climate change. Photo: AFP

We all know that too much sugar is bad for our health. But reducing its consumption could also have major benefits in the fight against climate change, argue Spanish researchers from the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB).

According to their study published in the scientific journal Nature Sustainability, sugar crops hold great potential for the production of biofuels for cars, particularly bioethanol.

Based on this premise, the researchers studied three different scenarios to determine the potential climate and sustainability benefits of using sugar crops for non-food purposes.

The first use sketched out is the reforestation of EU land used for sugar production. The second scenario is the conversion of sugar beet crops to bioethanol production, and the third is for the EU to export surplus sugar production while Brazil switches from sugarcane crops to ethanol production.

The study concludes that emissions could be reduced by between 20.9 and 54.3 megatons of CO2 equivalents each year if the EU reduced sugar consumption in line with health guidelines and if excess Brazilian sugarcane was diverted to ethanol production.

According to the research, these energy savings would be four times greater than reforestation of EU land and twice as great as ethanol production from EU sugar beets.

The proposal “provides a clear example of how broad collaboration can help direct society in a more sustainable direction,” outlines study co-author Jeroen van den Bergh, research professor at ICTA-UAB.

To achieve a reduction in sugar consumption, the study encourages the implementation of public prevention policies, but also the introduction of a sugar tax, similar to the one used by the EU for tobacco in recent decades.

“Sugar taxation will not affect only end use but also reduce sugar use by production sectors, such as beverages,” a release on the research states.

“For sustainability policies to be both efficient and effective, we must consider the full impact across the three pillars: environmental, social, and economic.

“Changing how we use sugar crops presents an appealing strategy from this perspective as sugar is arguably the least efficient crop to be used as food, apart even from its negative health impacts.

“Moreover, it is the most efficient crop for biofuel from a net energy perspective,” noted Lewis King, ICTA-UAB researcher and first author of the article. – AFP Relaxnews

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