Agrofuel Folly: The Comeback of the Biotech Industry
- The EU's agrofuel folly: policy capture by corporate interests
Newropeans Magazine - Paris, France, June 13, 2007
Straight to the Source
(1) Despite growing public concern about the risks associated to agrofuels, the European Union (EU) is throwing its weight behind the promotion of these often very harmful crops. In March 2007, a proposal set targets to increase the use of agrofuels in all road transport fuel to 10 percent by 2020. The Commission is also planning to channel large amounts of EU public funds towards the research & development of agrofuel projects.
* The EU's agrofuel folly has been influenced by the strong lobbying activities of interested industries, such as car-manufacturers, biotech companies and the oil industry. These industries have forged new alliances with each other and in recent years, have been invited by the European Commission to shape EU policy on agrofuels through several industry-dominated advisory bodies. These include the Advisory Research Council for Biofuels (BIOFRAC), CARS21 and more recently the European Biofuels Technology Platform (EBFTP).
* The impacts of this one-sided advice are far-reaching. It has affected how the EU is tackling the fundamental problem of reducing CO2 emissions from road transport. Furthermore, the so-called solution threatens to not only exacerbate the problem it aims to resolve, i.e. climate change, but will also create a range of new insecurities and devastation. It could not be further away from effective policy aimed at energy saving and reduced consumption.
* The EU Spring Council, meeting 8 - 9 March 2007, proposed, as part of a broader energy package, mandatory targets for 10% use of agrofuels in all road transport fuel by 2020. This almost doubles the current (non-binding) target of 5.75% by 2010. This proposal was presented as a major step to combat climate change.
* However, a closer look at agrofuels, reveals a devastating picture; a so-called solution accompanied by a raft of new problems. Agrofuels:
* - Compete with food for agricultural resources, and their expansion has already resulted in rising food prices which directly threatens the food security of the world's poorest communities; * - Increase the pressure on land which causes, amongst other things, an increased deforestation rate;
* - Are farmed in huge mono-crop plantations, involving intensive use of pesticides and fertilisers, and in many cases with the risk of genetically modified contamination. This threatens biodiversity along with other environmental hazards;
* - threaten land rights as they are accompanied by plans for monoculture expansion, which tends to be controlled by big agribusiness and wealthy land owners. This threatens the human rights of small farmers and indigenous peoples across the Global South as they are evicted from their lands or face ill-health, poor working conditions and land conflicts.
* Furthermore, to add insult to injury, there is growing evidence that agrofuels are indeed aggravating, not mitigating, climate change.
* Was the Commission aware of this before backing agrofuels with a host of policy measures? According to an official Commission impact assessment, completed in 2006, they were. This document mentions that, "increased use of biofuels in the EU will be accompanied by an increased external demand for biofuels and their feedstocks, which is likely to have various effects on developing countries... In addition, there are substantial CO2 losses if grassland is ploughed up or forest cleared. These losses can be expected to outweigh CO2 gains from biofuels for many years." It clearly states that "there will be increasing pressures on eco-sensitive areas, notably rainforests, where several millions of hectares could be transformed into plantations." Among the social effects the paper acknowledges the competition with food, the higher food prices which would hit the poor in developing countries and the pressure on vulnerable communities (to move away or drastically adapt their lifestyles).
The Commission's agrofuel policy has not been driven by the fight against climate change, it has sought to secure energy supply and serve the needs of large farmers and agribusiness, alongside the automotive, oil and biotech sectors, all with a direct interest in maintaining the existing status quo. The Commission has enabled these corporate interests to enter into the policy dialogue and design policy outcomes, by setting up advisory groups with a clear industry bias.