The European Union’s biofuel targets could starve up to 100 million people, warns a report from an anti-poverty charity.
ActionAid estimates the E.U.’s plan to source 10 percent of transport fuels from biofuels would increase competition for agricultural lands, spurring a sharp rise in food prices. Dearer food would disproportionally affect the world’s poorest people.
“Biofuels are conservatively estimated to have been responsible for at least 30% of the global food price spike in 2008,” states Meals per gallon. “It was estimated in 2008 that the food crisis had already pushed a further 100 million people into poverty and driven about 30 million more people into hunger.”
“If all global biofuel targets are met, it is predicted that food prices could rise by up to an additional 76% by 2020. An estimated 600 million extra people may be hungry because of industrial biofuels by this date.”
Beyond food scarcity concerns, ActionAid says biofuel targets will increase conflict over land and exacerbate environmental problems.
“The scale of the current land grab is astonishing,” the report states. In just five African countries, 1.1 million hectares have been given over to industrial biofuels – an area the size of Belgium… EU companies have already acquired or requested at least five million hectares of land for industrial biofuels in developing countries – an area greater than the size of Denmark.”
The report argues that cropland expansion (17.5 million hectares will be needed in developing countries to meet the E.U.’s 10 percent target) will come at the expense of tropical forests and peatlands, worsening climate change.
“[Industrial biofuels] are the least cost-effective way of saving GHG emissions compared to other uses of the feedstock (the crops that go to make biofuel),” states the report. “Industrial biofuels are therefore a red herring in the fight against climate change, and will compound hunger and poverty for the poor in the future.”
Meals per gallon comes as biofuel industry lobbyists are making progress in their efforts to retain targets and relax environmental standards. Earlier this month a leaked document showed the E.U. is considering language that would classify industrial plantations as natural forests, allowing large-scale conversion of rainforests for biofuel production. Biofuel supporters claim conventional biofuels would boost economic activity in poor rural areas, but critics say the biggest beneficiaries of industrial plantations are corporations and expansion will deprive some already-disadvantaged populations of traditional access to land. Due to social and environmental concerns, some biofuels experts are now pushing biofuel feedstocks that will not compete with food crops, including woody grasses in temperate regions, oil palm and other crops on abandoned and degraded agricultural lands in the tropics, and freshwater algae.
Tim Rice (2009). Meals per gallon [PDF]. ActionAid.
(02/08/2010) Business-as-usual agricultural expansion to meet biofuel production targets for 2020 will take a heavy toll on Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in coming years, undermining the potential emissions savings of transitioning from fossil fuels to biofuels, warns a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The research suggests that intensification of cattle ranching, combined with efforts to promote high-yielding oil crops like oil palm could lessen forecast greenhouse gas emissions from indirect land use in the region.
(02/04/2010) The European Union may be planning to classify oil palm plantations as forests, raising fears among environmental groups of expanded conversion of tropical rainforests for biofuel production, reports the EUobserver, which cites a leaked document from the European Commission. The draft document shows that policymakers are considering language that would specifically allow use of biofuels produced via conversion of rainforests to oil palm plantations.
(01/12/2010) Palm oil is one of the world’s most traded and versatile agricultural commodities. It can be used as edible vegetable oil, industrial lubricant, raw material in cosmetic and skincare products and feedstock for biofuel production. Growing global demand for palm oil and the ensuing cropland expansion has been blamed for a wide range of environmental ills, including tropical deforestation, peatland degradation, biodiversity loss and CO2 emissions. In response to these concerns, a group of stakeholders—including activists, investors, producers and retailers—formed the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to develop a certification scheme for palm oil produced through environmentally- and socially-responsible ways. It is widely anticipated that the creation of a premium market for RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) would incentivize palm oil producers to improve their management practices.
(07/16/2009) Sustainable biofuels can be a reality but only in combination with reductions in fuel demand and increased productivity on existing agricultural lands, argue researchers writing in the journal Science. Five years ago biofuels were seen as a panacea for the world’s energy hunger and the need to address climate change, but increased production of biofuels soon contributed to a clutch of problems, including competition with food, resulting in rising prices, and large-scale conversion of rainforests and tropical grasslands for feedstocks, resulting in biodiversity loss and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Environmentalists and scientists condemned many biofuels — including ethanol produced from Midwestern corn ethanol and biodiesel generated from European rapeseed and Southeast Asian palm oil — as a short-sighted energy solution. Some biofuels were found to be even worse for the environment, and more costly, than conventional gasoline. However some researchers remain optimistic that smart biofuel production could help meet energy demand without hurting people or the planet. In a Science Policy Forum piece, David Tilman and colleagues explore some of these options, noting that biofuels can be produced in substantial quantities at low environmental cost
(06/25/2009) Meeting food and energy demands in a world where human population is expected to reach 9 billion by mid-century will require a range of approaches that increase the sustainability of agricultural production, reports a new assessment from Deutsche Bank’s Climate Change Advisors (DBCCA).
(12/03/2008) Producing biofuels from oil palm plantations established on degraded grasslands rather than tropical rainforests and peat lands would result in a net removal of carbon from the atmosphere rather than greenhouse gas emissions, report researchers writing in Conservation Biology. The results confirm that benefits to climate from biofuel production depend greatly on the type of land used for feedstocks.
(09/12/2008) The E.U. voted to relax biofuels targets following widespread criticism of their social, economic, and environmental impacts. Thursday the European Parliament’s Industry and Energy Committee said it would push a plan calling for a 5 percent share of renewables in transport fuel by 2015 and a 10 percent target by 2020, a reduction from the 20 percent target set forth in March 2007. The plan effectively cuts targets for biofuels produced from conventional feedstocks to four percent in 2015 and six percent in 2020.
(08/27/2008) The British government should end subsidies for biofuels and instead use the funds to slow destruction of rainforests and tropical peatlands argues a new report issued by a U.K.-based think tank. The study, titled “The Root of the Matter” and published by Policy Exchange, says that “avoided deforestation” would be a more cost-effective way to address climate change, since land use change generates more emissions than the entire global transport sector and offers ancillary benefits including important ecosystem services.
(07/25/2008) Under attack by politicians, aid groups, and environmentalists for driving up food prices and fueling destruction of ecologically sensitive habitats, some of the world’s largest agroindustrial firms have formed a lobby group to influence consumers and lawmakers to support continued subsidies for biofuel production, reports Reuters.
(07/14/2008) Rising demand for fuel, food, and wood products will take a heavy toll on tropical forests, warns a new report released by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).
(06/14/2008) The emergence and expansion of biofuels produced from food crops has exacerabted world’s agriculture and water crisis and is a bigger short-term threat than global warming, argued Peter Brabeck-Letmathe in an editorial published Thursday in the Wall Street Journal Asia.
(05/27/2008) Next generation biofuels could decimate tropical forests says a leading ecologist from the University of Minnesota.
(05/16/2008) A global moratorium on biofuels produced from food crops would result in a significant decline in the price of corn, sugar, cassava and wheat by 2010, reports the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
(02/14/2008) Echoing sentiments increasingly expressed by politicians, scientists, and advocates for the poor, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warned that the world’s poorest people are suffering as a result of the push to use food crops for biofuel production.
(02/07/2008) Converting native ecosystems for production of biofuel feed stocks is worsening the greenhouse gas emissions they are intended to mitigate, reports a pair of studies published in the journal Science. The studies follow a series of reports that have linked ethanol and biodiesel production to increased carbon dioxide emissions, destruction of biodiverse forest and savanna habitats, and water and air pollution.
(01/17/2008) U.S. incentives for biofuel production are promoting deforestation in southeast Asia and the Amazon by driving up crop prices and displacing energy feedstock production, say researchers.
(01/03/2008) Biofuels made from world’s dominant energy crops — including corn, soy, and oil palm — may have worse environment impacts than conventional fossil fuels, reports a study published in the journal Science.
(12/05/2007) With forest conversion for large-scale agriculture rapidly emerging as a leading driver of tropical deforestation, a new report from the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) suggests the trend is likely to continue with Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Peru, and Colombia containing 75 percent of the world’s forested land that is highly suitable for industrial agriculture expansion. Nevertheless the study identifies forests that may be best suited (low population density, unsuitable climate and soils) for “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD) initiatives which compensate countries for preserving forest lands in exchange for carbon credits.