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 the report - 'Another Inconvenient Truth' - Oxfam
calculates that rich country biofuel policies have dragged
more than 30 million people into poverty, according to evidence
that biofuels have already contributed up to 30% to the global
rise in food prices.
“Biofuel policies are actually helping to accelerate climate
change and deepen poverty and hunger. Rich countries' demands
for more biofuels in their transport fuels are causing spiralling
production and food inflation” - said report author, Oxfam's
biofuel policy adviser, Rob Bailey.
“If the fuel value for a crop exceeds its food value, then
it will be used 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 must stop and revise their policies now. “The
evidence about their damage is overwhelming” - Bailey said.
Even in poor countries where biofuels may offer some reward,
the potential costs are severe and they should proceed with
Rich countries are supporting their own biofuel production
through targets, subsidies, tax breaks and tariffs. This has
been described as a new 'tax on food'.
“Rich countries spent up to $15 billion last year supporting
biofuels. 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.”
The biofuels being grown today are not an effective answer
to climate change, Oxfam says. 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 the use of
land to produce palm oil could be almost 70 times greater
than the annual savings the EU hopes to achieve from biofuels
Bailey says that biofuels will not address rich countries'
need for fuel security. “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 marginalised
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. However,
as the main plank of a policy to substitute transport fuel
by rich nations, biofuels are failing.
“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”
- said Bailey.
Oxfam Ireland is asking the Irish government to support the
dropping of the proposed EU target to meet 10% of transport
energy needs from ‘renewable sources' - in practice biofuels
- by 2020.
"To support a huge increase in biofuels use when we're
already seeing the damaging impacts of increased demand, would
be hugely irresponsible. It may have once looked like a good
idea, but clearly now is the time to rethink and drop the
target" - says Colin Roche, Oxfam Ireland 's Policy and
Advocacy Co Ordinator.
To download the report - 'Another Inconvenient Truth'
 Renewable Energy Sources Directive