Biofuels capped but still likely to starve, pollute

Combating global hunger must take priority over the narrow interests of the big farming lobby and biofuels industry.

Combating global hunger must take priority over the narrow interests of the big farming lobby and biofuels industry.

Reforms announced on October 17 – a day after World Food Day – by the European Commission will not stop biofuels pushing up food prices and accelerating climate change.

The proposals include a five per cent cap on crop-based biofuels, which goes some way towards controlling the quantity of crops used for fuel.

However, this limit is still above current consumption levels and will not prevent biofuels competing with crops for food or pressurising food prices in tight markets.

Commissioners have also caved-in on measures to make sure biofuels are not worse for our climate than fossil fuels.

By failing to propose ‘carbon accounting’ measures – the original aim of this legislative exercise – biofuels will continue to contribute to deforestation and climate change.

The EC policy reforms were also meant to address indirect land use change (ILUC), whereby agriculture has to expand to accommodate the demand for biofuels.

This happens at the expense of forests and natural habitats and causes significant carbon emissions.

The emissions from ILUC mean that many biofuels in Europe’s cars, including soy, rapeseed and palm oil, have a worse carbon footprint than normal fossil fuel.

Repeated food crises are no coincidence. However, solutions are within reach, and now is the time for European governments to grasp the opportunity and take action.

The proposed action to limit future EU demand for biofuels is a step in the right direction. Yet the fact remains that these reforms will not improve gloabal climate change and worldwide poverty and hunger.

With a new food crisis looming and nearly a billion people starving worldwide, we need to stop burning food altogether. Combating global hunger must take priority over the narrow interests of the big farming lobby and biofuels industry.

The EC proposals await the go-ahead by Europe’s politicians in the coming year.

44 million

the estimated number of people pushed into poverty when high prices last struck in 2010

Food has been turned into a mere commodity for export, trade and speculation rather than a basic human right.

Droughts in the US and Eastern Europe have sparked sharp peaks in global food prices – which rose by 10 per cent in July compared to a year earlier.

Staple commodities hit record highs in August and September (maize and wheat were up 25 per cent and soybean oil up 17 per cent). But these deadly fluctuations cannot be blamed only on bad weather.

Policy choices have created the conditions for a perfect storm of increasing demand within tight and more volatile food markets.

Financial speculation on food, diversion of food crops to biofuels for cars, and rising demand for animal feeds for meat mean that higher and increasingly unstable food prices are fast becoming the new norm.

When global prices rise suddenly, more people starve. An estimated 44 million people were pushed into poverty when high prices last struck in 2010, with women and children hit hardest.

Sudden food price rises in 2008 sparked riots in many countries – a scenario the UN warns could be repeated if the price for staple foods, such as maize and wheat, spike again.

Mr Galea De Giovanni is chairman of Friends of the Earth Malta and a member of Friends of the Earth International.


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