Growing concern over biofuels as global food crisis looms

Governments have gathered in Rome for World Food Day to discuss the global food price crisis today, as the EU prepares to announce reforms addressing social and environmental impacts of expanding land use for biofuels.

To coincide with tomorrow’s announcement from the EU, Friends of the Earth Europe released a report today slamming biofuels and calling on governments to scrap biofuel targets, which it claims exacerbates food price rises by diverting food to fuel.

Friends of the Earth International’s Food Sovereignty programme coordinator, Martin Drago, said: “We need urgent action from governments to fund ecological farming and an immediate halt to using food crops to fuel cars.”

In a separate statement, Friends of the Earth Europe’s biofuels campaigner, Robbie Blake, said: “Biofuels are not the solution to making transport greener and are instead making climate change worse and pushing up food prices and hunger.

“In a world where almost a billion people already go hungry, and biofuel for Europe’s cars are contributing, it’s time for [the European Commission’s] President Barroso to call a halt to this madness of burning food.”

Climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard and energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger have been quick to point out that the EU is taking the concerns seriously prior to tomorrow’s reforms announcement.

“It is wrong to believe that we are pushing food-based biofuels. In our upcoming proposal for new legislation, we do exactly the contrary: we limit them to the current consumption level. That is 5% up to 2020. […]We are pushing biofuels that help us cut substantial CO2-emissions, do not compete with food and are sustainable and green at the same time,” Hedegaard and Oettinger said in a joint statement.

Meanwhile, concerns have increased in the biodiesel industry over the emergence of a European Commission draft, which proposes accounting for indirect land-use change (ILUC) emissions in the fuel quality directive.

The draft also proposes capping the quantity of biofuels made from food crops in the renewable energy directive at current production levels of 4.5% until 2017, a timeframe it claims is sufficient for investments to be paid back.

The biofuel industry also claimed that these leaked proposals put 450,000 jobs at stake but the draft says these fears are ‘groundless’.

In response to the EU’s draft proposals, renewable energy consultants, Ecofys, claims it is possible to account for ILUC emissions in EU biofuel legislation while maintaining employment in the industry and paying back investments in construction of existing biofuel facilities.

It says a mechanism known as ‘grandfathering’, which would mean exempting existing biofuel production from the new emissions accounting rules, would be a crucial tool in achieving this.

The consultancy says the 5% cap on biofuels from food suggested in the leaked proposals is similar to their proposed cap of 4.5%, and claims that it is unlikely to cause job losses within the industry.

Other environmental campaigners have cautiously welcomed the draft proposal saying that it finally starts to address issues with current unsustainable biofuels. However, it still does not provide enough clarity about the future because it does not calculate ILUC emissions from non-food based biofuels, and it does not include ILUC emissions in the renewable energy directive.

Conor McGlone

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