The recent agreement between China's top forestry authority and one of the nation's biggest energy giants to develop biofuels plantations in the southwest reflects rising Chinese attention to non-fossil energy sources. But the excitement may come at great environmental loss to the region's forests and biological diversity, suggesting significant trade offs associated with the renewable fuels.

The biofuels plantations will allegedly be built on marginal lands, including degraded forestlands and croplands, of which Yunnan province alone has more than 4 million, according to a local official. Yet it is not rare in China for local governments to sell off lush hills to logging companies as "waste forestlands."