BIOFUELS DRIVE HUNGER AND ARE NOT THE ANSWER TO CLIMATE OR FUEL CRISES SAYS OXFAM
Oxfam - June 25, 2008 12:01 AM - Today's biofuel policies are not solving the climate or fuel crises but are instead contributing to food insecurity and inflation, hitting poor people hardest, according to a new report by international agency Oxfam.
In today's report "Another Inconvenient Truth", Oxfam calculates that rich country biofuel policies have dragged more than 30 million people into poverty, based on evidence that biofuels have already contributed up to 30% to the global rise in food prices.
Oxfam believes the UK government, which introduced 2.5% of biofuel in all transport fuel last April, should reverse its policy instead of doubling the amount by 2010. The UK government should also press the EU to follow suit, by cancelling plans for a 10% biofuel target by 2020. Oxfam hopes that the conclusions from the 'Gallagher Review'*, due out tomorrow, will add extra pressure on the Government to act.
"It would be shameful if the government decided to plough on ahead regardless of mounting evidence exposing the dangerous short-comings of biofuels," said report author Robert Bailey. "Their biofuels policy is out of sync with its overall ambition to tackle climate change and promote development around the world.
"Rich counties' biofuel policies- including the UK's - is actually helping to accelerate climate change and deepen poverty and hunger. Rich countries' demands for more biofuels in their transport fuels are causing spiralling food inflation."
HE CONTINUED: "IF THE FUEL VALUE FOR A CROP IS MORE THAN ITS FOOD VALUE, THEN IT WILL BE SOLD FOR FUEL INSTEAD. THANKS TO GENEROUS SUBSIDIES AND TAX BREAKS, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING. GRAIN RESERVES ARE NOW AT AN ALL-TIME LOW."
Rich countries, including the UK, are supporting their own biofuel production through rapidly increasing targets, subsidies, tax breaks and tariffs. From being hailed as a green initiative, biofuels have been used to protect farming interests, with support ultimately creating a new 'tax on food'.
"Rich countries spent up to $15 billion last year supporting their own biofuels while blocking cheaper Brazilian ethanol, which is far less damaging for global food security and the environment. That's the same amount of money that Oxfam says is needed to help poor people cope with the food crisis," said Bailey.
"This is a regressive tax that hits poor people the hardest because their food bills represent a greater share of their income," he said.
The biofuels being grown today are not an effective answer to climate change. Instead, biofuels are taking over agricultural land and forcing farming to expand into lands that are important carbon sinks, like forests and wetlands. This triggers the release of carbon from soil and vegetation that will take decades to repay.
Oxfam estimates that by 2020, as a result of the EU's 10% biofuel target, carbon emissions from changing land use for palm oil could be almost 70 times greater than the annual savings the EU hopes to achieve from biofuels by then.
The report shows that biofuels will not address rich countries' need for fuel security, as has been argued by supporters of biofuels. "Even if the entire world's supply of grains and sugars were converted into ethanol tomorrow - in the process giving us all even less to eat - we would only be able to replace 40% of our petrol and diesel consumption," Bailey said. "Rich country governments should not use biofuels as an excuse to avoid urgent decisions about how to reduce their unfettered demand for petrol and diesel."
In developing countries, Oxfam says that biofuels could provide a sustainable energy alternative for poor people in marginalized areas - but that the potential economic, social and environmental costs can be severe, and countries should proceed with caution. In Mali for example, bioenergy projects provide clean renewable energy sources to poor women and men in rural areas. But, as the main plank of a policy to substitute transport fuel by rich nations, biofuels are failing.
Bailey said: "Biofuels were meant to be an alternative to oil - a secure source of new transport energy. But rich countries have designed their policies too much for the benefit of domestic interest groups. They are making climate change worse, not better, they are stealing crops and land away from food production, and they are destroying millions of livelihoods in the process."
Notes to Editor: "Another Inconvenient Truth" makes the following key recommendations:
Rich countries should:
· Introduce a freeze on implementing new biofuel mandates
· Urgently revise existing biofuel mandates that deepen poverty and accelerate climate change
· Dismantle subsidies and tax exemptions for biofuels
· Reduce import tariffs on biofuels
Developing countries should:
· Proceed with extreme caution, planning for the long-term, avoiding ambitious targets and analysing the economic, environmental and social impacts of biofuels
Companies and investors should:
· Ensure no biofuel project takes place without the free, prior and informed consent of local communities
· Promote access to energy in remote areas
*The Gallagher Review was commissioned by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly in February to look at the social standards and environmental impacts of biofuels. The results are scheduled to be announced on June 26.
For further information and to arrange images or interviews, contact Lucy Brinicombe, 01865 472192 / +44 (0) 7786110054 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Related links via Oxfam's TinyUrl.: http://tinyurl.com/5ujurd
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Editor: Henk Ruyssenaars