Biofuels are of increasing interest as an alternative to fossil fuels. This pure image allows industry, politicians, the World Bank, the United Nations and even the International Panel on Climate Change to present fuels made from corn, sugarcane, soy and other crops as the next step in a smooth transition from oil to a not yet defined renewable fuel economy. But, at what price?
From BBC News:
Agriculture minister Michel Barnier said Europe could not remain passive and leave the situation to the markets.
He said producing biofuels, a key part of the EU’s plans to tackle climate change, was a “crime against humanity”.
The reason? Land that could be growing food for human consumption is being used to raise biofuel crops to replace oil.
The European Union has set a target of providing 10% of its fuel for transport from biofuels by 2020, which its own environment advisers have said should be suspended.
There are fears that the use of farmland to grow crops for biofuels has reduced the scope for food production.
The European Commission said on Monday that there was no question at the moment of the target being dropped, as work was currently under way to implement it in a sustainable way.
In plain English, they are saying that “biofuels” better describes the corporate industrial interests behind the transformation from food crops to fuel crops. You know, corporate profits.
The EU is well aware of the risks of soaring food prices and, only last week, Development Commissioner Louis Michel warned of the crisis leading to a “humanitarian tsunami” in Africa.
France will take over the presidency of the EU in July and, in a statement on Friday, four ministers made it clear that the violent response to price rises in Haiti could easily be replicated in 30 other countries.
Protests because of a big increase in the cost of rice have led to a number of deaths in Haiti as well as the fall of the government.
This is probably obvious to those of us that have taken on the ideal of fighting poverty, but hunger results not from scarcity, but poverty.
The world’s poorest already spend 50 to 80 percent of household income on food. It gets worse when high fuel prices push up food prices. Now, because food and fuel crops compete for land and resources, both increase the price of land and water.
Mr Barnier told French radio on Monday: “We cannot, and we must not leave food for people… to the mercy of the rule of the market alone and to international speculation.”
He is proposing four ideas:
Production of more and better food to enable Europe to respond to the food challenge
To bring together the efforts of various member states to help developing countries rebuild their agriculture
To redirect public development aid towards the agriculture sector
To ensure that poorer countries do not become the victims of the World Trade Organization’s Doha round of negotations.
Last week, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, whose country holds the presidency of the G8 industrialised nations, calling for a “fully co-ordinated response”.
He proposed urgent short-term action to tackle immediate hardship and a medium-term response in trade and agriculture.
We all want an alternative to oil and coal based products for our energy needs, but it is truly looking as though biofuels are not the answer and are perhaps just another bad use of resources that could be better put to use in the fight against poverty.
I know there is a lot of effort going into fuel cell technology at this time, and hopefully hydrogen burning fuel cells will make more sense as an alternative to coal and oil.
In the meantime, I would hope the EU is able to make sense of the “food or fuel” debate and put a plan into action before we begin to see food riots everywhere.