1.Ban expansion of agrofuels
2.Adding fuel to the fire
3.An Agricultural Crime Against Humanity - Biofuels could kill more people than the Iraq war

EXTRACTS: the [European] commission has been formally advised by a body known as the Biofuels Research Advisory Council (Biofrac)... the membership list for this body [includes] representatives of Shell, which describes itself as the 'world's largest distributor of transport agrofuels', EuropaBio (the umbrella group for the genetic engineering industry), Total (the French oil giant which counts Burma's military junta as a client)... It is understandable that industry would want to promote biofuels, albeit on spurious grounds. But it is inexcusable that policy makers have fallen for this deception. (item 2)


1.Ban expansion of agrofuels
Jerusalam Post, November 1 2007

With biofuels being touted as our best great hope to undo climate change, it would be easy to ask yourself, 'What's not to like?'

Biofuels, proponents claim, will counter our global dependence on fossil fuels and help curb carbon emissions. But this 'greening' of our energy sources is not all that green.

A growing group of human rights and environmental activists point to the dangers that biofuels pose to environmental sustainability and the livelihoods of communities around the world, and call for a major shift: a moratorium on biofuels.

Most of the policies being put forward envision substituting biofuels for fossil fuels without reducing our overall consumption of energy. These proposals are backed by agribusiness, biotech companies and oil interests that are now investing billions in ethanol and biodiesel plants, plantations of soy, corn, sugar cane and palm oil, as well as genetically engineered trees and microbes for future supplies of cellulosic ethanol.

The prefix 'bio' suggests that 'biofuels' are natural, renewable and safe, an appealing thought to those concerned with the toxic and unsustainable use of fossil fuels. But agrofuels (as they are known in Latin America) are not easily renewable because the Earth's landmass is itself a finite resource. To produce even 7 percent of the energy that the U.S. currently gets from petroleum would require converting the country's entire corn crop to ethanol.

If we don't reduce the demand for energy by consuming less, we risk a scenario in which most of the Earth's arable land will be dedicated to growing 'fuel crops' instead of food crops. People concerned about this danger use the term agrofuels to highlight the impact that biofuels have on the world's food supply.

Growing agrofuels on a mass scale is already jacking up food prices, depleting soil and water supplies, destroying forests and violating the rights of Indigenous and local people in areas newly designated as 'biofuel plantations.' Agrofuels are a false solution to climate change because they:

Violate land rights. Agrofuel plantations in Brazil and Southeast Asia are being created on the territories of indigenous peoples who have traditionally lived in and protected these ecosystems. Indigenous peoples and local subsistence farmers, most of whom are women, are being displaced.

People are being forced to give up their land, way of life and food self-sufficiency to grow fuel crops for export. Often, plantation workers face abuse, harsh working conditions and exposure to toxic pesticides. In Brazil, some soy farms rely on debt peonage workers, essentially modern-day slaves.

Worsen hunger. Agrofuel expansion threatens to divert the world's grain supply from food to fuel. We know that when economic demand increases, costs rise. That means staple foods like corn will become more expensive.

Already in June 2007, the United Nations reported that 'soaring demand for biofuels is contributing to a rise in global food import costs.' The principle of supply and demand also means that fewer people will grow food because 'fuel crops' will be worth more.

Already, small-scale farmers in Colombia, Rwanda and Guatemala feel compelled by global trade rules to grow luxury crops such as flowers and coffee for export while their families go hungry. Given the amount of land that would be required to 'grow' enough fuel to maintain the global economy, the threat of worsening hunger and land rights abuses is grave.

According to the Rainforest Action Network, the crops required to make enough biofuel to fill a 95-liter SUV tank could feed one person for a year.

Worsen global warming. Agrofuels don't necessarily reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming especially if they are produced in unsustainable ways. For example, currently, the most common method of turning palm oil into fuel produces more carbon dioxide emissions than refining petroleum. Agrofuel production has made Indonesia (where 40 percent of the population does not have electricity) the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

Worsen deforestation and threaten Biodiversity. Corporate plans for expanding biofuel production involve destroying forests and other ecosystems to create massive plantations that rely on chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides to maximize production. Monoculture (single crop) plantations of soy and palm oil are being established in the rain forests and grasslands of Asia and South America, threatening some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Clear-cutting forests to plant agrofuels adds to warming by eliminating carbon-absorbing forests.

Why is energy a women's issue? In most of the global south, women are responsible for collecting household fuel for cooking, lighting and other family needs. Most of this energy is derived from natural resources such as wood, charcoal or dung.

When fuel is made scarce for example, by deforestation or drought, women's and girls' workloads increase sharply. In some communities, women spend many hours a day collecting fuel.

So what's the alternative? Jean Ziegler, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food has called for a five-year ban on agrofuel expansion. A moratorium on the conversion of land for agrofuel production should be accompanied by the development of new energy technologies that do not compromise global food security.

We need sustainable solutions to climate change, not corporate solutions that seek to simply shift our energy addiction from one resource to another. We need to consume less, not just differently, and steer clear of solutions that would expand the reach and all the pitfalls of industrialized agriculture.

Creative and practical solutions for meeting our energy requirements including some local, sustainable biofuel programs are being developed around the world. We can support proposals for developing sustainable renewable energy sources, while recognizing the need to reduce overall consumption and protect human rights including everyone's basic right to food.

Yifat Susskind is communications director for the women's human rights organization MADRE.


2.Adding fuel to the fire
David Cronin
Guardian - Comment is Free, November 2 2007

Biofuels aren't a miracle solution to climate change. It's inexcusable that policy makers have allowed industry to convince them otherwise.

I used to be seduced by the term 'biofuels'. Maybe it was through living in a French-speaking country where the abbreviation 'bio' appears on labels for organic carrots. Or maybe it was because the people I knew who ran their cars on something other than conventional petrol or diesel could speak authoritatively on at least one of the following topics: shiatsu, yoga and homebirths.

Officials working for the European commission have similarly allowed themselves to be convinced that biofuels provide some sort of miracle solution to climate change. In December, the commission is scheduled put forward a law telling EU countries what they can and cannot do to ensure biofuels are produced 'sustainably'.

Rules in this area are unquestionably needed. Yet the problem is the commission already set a target earlier this year that biofuels will comprise one-tenth of all petrol and diesel used in the EU by 2010. So it has backed itself into a corner where it feels obliged to defend biofuels, despite a growing body of evidence on how they can be socially and ecologically destructive.

One study (pdf) - published in the August issue of Science magazine - suggests that nearly 40% of European cropland would need to be converted to biofuels if the 10% goal is to be reached. As the target could not be met from existing arable land, grasslands and forests would have to be cleared. The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released from the requisite destruction would exceed any eventual saving of greenhouse gases brought by the eventual use of biofuels in road transport, the study concludes.

Increasing biofuel imports may have even worse consequences - as a new Oxfam report infers.

It notes how workers in the palm oil industry in Indonesia are trapped in a system that is tantamount to slavery. Indigenous people have been uprooted from their land to make way for plantations. In return, they are given plots of two hectares as 'compensation'. Credit is provided to them but because it takes eight years before oil palms turn profitable, they run up huge debts before having to sell to the companies to which they are indebted.

It is important to realise who the matchmakers behind the EU's love affair with biofuels have been.

Over the past few years, the commission has been formally advised by a body known as the Biofuels Research Advisory Council (Biofrac). In a 2006 paper (pdf), it spelled out a 'vision' whereby one-quarter of Europe's transport fuel should be 'clean and CO2-efficient' by 2030.

All very laudable - until you look at the membership list for this body. This included representatives of Shell, which describes itself as the 'world's largest distributor of transport agrofuels', EuropaBio (the umbrella group for the genetic engineering industry), Total (the French oil giant which counts Burma's military junta as a client), Volvo, Volkswagen and Peugeot.

These firms have either a vested interest in biofuels or see how they can be used as a smokescreen to avoid decisive action on climate change. It is no coincidence that, following intense lobbying by car makers, the commission has watered down plans for binding limits on vehicle emissions. Rather than insisting on strict rules, the commission is encouraging voluntary measures for reducing emissions through the use of - you've guessed it right - biofuels.

It is understandable that industry would want to promote biofuels, albeit on spurious grounds. But it is inexcusable that policy makers have fallen for this deception.


3.An Agricultural Crime Against Humanity
Biofuels could kill more people than the Iraq war
By George Monbiot.
The Guardian, 6th November 2007

It doesn't get madder than this. Swaziland is in the grip of a famine and receiving emergency food aid. Forty per cent of its people are facing acute food shortages. So what has the government decided to export? Biofuel made from one of its staple crops, cassava(1). The government has allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in the county of Lavumisa, which happens to be the place worst hit by drought(2). It would surely be quicker and more humane to refine the Swazi people and put them in our tanks. Doubtless a team of development consultants is already doing the sums.

This is one of many examples of a trade described last month by Jean Ziegler, the UN's special rapporteur, as 'a crime against humanity'(3). Ziegler took up the call first made by this column for a five-year moratorium on all government targets and incentives for biofuel(4): the trade should be frozen until second-generation fuels - made from wood or straw or waste - become commercially available. Otherwise the superior purchasing power of drivers in the rich world means that they will snatch food from people’s mouths. Run your car on virgin biofuel and other people will starve.

Even the International Monetary Fund, always ready to immolate the poor on the altar of business, now warns that using food to produce biofuels 'might further strain already tight supplies of arable land and water all over the world, thereby pushing food prices up even further.'(5) This week the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation will announce the lowest global food reserves in 25 years, threatening what it calls 'a very serious crisis'(6). Even when the price of food was low, 850 million people went hungry because they could not afford to buy it. With every increment in the price of flour or grain, several million more are pushed below the breadline.

The cost of rice has risen by 20% over the past year, maize by 50%, wheat by 100%(7). Biofuels aren’t entirely to blame - by taking land out of food production they exacerbate the effects of bad harvests and rising demand - but almost all the major agencies are now warning against expansion. And almost all the major governments are ignoring them.

They turn away because biofuels offer a means of avoiding hard political choices. They create the impression that governments can cut carbon emissions and - as Ruth Kelly, the British transport secretary, announced last week(8) - keep expanding the transport networks. New figures show that British drivers puttered past the 500 billion kilometre mark for the first time last year(9). But it doesn’t matter: we just have to change the fuel we use. No one has to be confronted. The demands of the motoring lobby and the business groups clamouring for new infrastructure can be met. The people being pushed off their land remain unheard.

In principle, burning biofuels merely releases the carbon they accumulated when they were growing. Even when you take into account the energy costs of harvesting, refining and transporting the fuel, they produce less net carbon than petroleum products. The law the British government passed a fortnight ago - by 2010, 5% of our road transport fuel must come from crops(10) - will, it claims, save between 700,000 and 800,000 tonnes of carbon a year(11). It derives this figure by framing the question carefully. If you count only the immediate carbon costs of planting and processing biofuels, they appear to reduce greenhouse gases. When you look at the total impacts, you find that they cause more warming than petroleum.

A recent study by the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen shows that the official estimates have ignored the contribution of nitrogen fertilisers. They generate a greenhouse gas - nitrous oxide - which is 296 times as powerful as CO2. These emissions alone ensure that ethanol from maize causes between 0.9 and 1.5 times as much warming as petrol, while rapeseed oil (the source of over 80% of the world’s biodiesel) generates 1-1.7 times the impact of diesel(12). This is before you account for the changes in land use.

A paper published in Science three months ago suggests that protecting uncultivated land saves, over 30 years, between two and nine times the carbon emissions you might avoid by ploughing it and planting biofuels(13). Last year the research group LMC International estimated that if the British and European target of a 5% contribution from biofuels were to be adopted by the rest of the world, the global acreage of cultivated land would expand by 15%(14). That means the end of most tropical forests. It might also cause runaway climate change.

The British government says it will strive to ensure that 'only the most sustainable biofuels' will be used in the UK(15). It has no means of enforcing this aim - it admits that if it tried to impose a binding standard it would break world trade rules(16). But even if 'sustainability' could be enforced, what exactly does it mean? You could, for example, ban palm oil from new plantations. This is the most destructive kind of biofuel, driving deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. But the ban would change nothing. As Carl Bek-Nielsen, vice chairman of Malaysia’s United Plantations Bhd, remarked, 'even if it is another oil that goes into biodiesel, that other oil then needs to be replaced. Either way, there’s going to be a vacuum and palm oil can fill that vacuum.'(17) The knock-on effects cause the destruction you are trying to avoid. The only sustainable biofuel is recycled waste oil, but the available volumes are tiny(18).

At this point the biofuels industry starts shouting 'jatropha!' It is not yet a swear word, but it soon will be. Jatropha is a tough weed with oily seeds that grows in the tropics. This summer Bob Geldof, who never misses an opportunity to promote simplistic solutions to complex problems, arrived in Swaziland in the role of 'special adviser' to a biofuels firm. Because it can grow on marginal land, jatropha, he claimed, is a 'life-changing' plant, which will offer jobs, cash crops and economic power to African smallholders(19).

Yes, it can grow on poor land and be cultivated by smallholders. But it can also grow on fertile land and be cultivated by largeholders. If there is one blindingly obvious fact about biofuel it’s that it is not a smallholder crop. It is an internationally-traded commodity which travels well and can be stored indefinitely, with no premium for local or organic produce. Already the Indian government is planning 14m hectares of jatropha plantations(20). In August the first riots took place among the peasant farmers being driven off the land to make way for them(21).

If the governments promoting biofuels do not reverse their policies, the humanitarian impact will be greater than that of the Iraq war. Millions will be displaced, hundreds of millions more could go hungry. This crime against humanity is a complex one, but that neither lessens nor excuses it. If people starve because of biofuels, Ruth Kelly and her peers will have killed them. Like all such crimes it is perpetrated by cowards, attacking the weak to avoid confronting the strong.


1. IRIN Africa, 25th October 2007. Swaziland: Food or biofuel seems to be the question.

2. Energy Current, 29th October 2007. Swaziland joins biofuel drive despite mounting food crisis.

3. Grant Ferrett, 27th October 2007. Biofuels ‘crime against humanity’. BBC Online.

4. George Monbiot, 27th March 2007. A Lethal Solution. The Guardian.

5. Valerie Mercer-Blackman, Hossein Samiei, and Kevin Cheng, 17th October 2007. Biofuel Demand Pushes Up Food Prices. IMF Research Department.

6. Jacques Diouf, quoted by John Vidal, 3rd November 2007. Global food crisis looms as climate change and fuel shortages bite. The Guardian.

7. John Vidal, 3rd November 2007. Global food crisis looms as climate change and fuel shortages bite. The Guardian.

8. Department for Transport, October 2007. Towards a Sustainable Transport System:

Supporting Economic Growth in a Low Carbon World.

9. Department for Transport, 2007. Transport Statistics Great Britain 2007. Table 7.1. Road traffic by type of vehicle: 1949-2006

10. HM Government, 2007. The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order 2007.

11. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, October 2007. Biofuels - risks and opportunities, p4.

12. PJ Crutzen, AR Mosier, KA Smith and W Winiwarter, 1 August 2007. N2O release from agro-biofuel production negates global warming reduction by replacing fossil fuels. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions 7, pp11191 11205.

13. Renton Righelato and Dominick V. Spracklen, 17th August 2007. Carbon Mitigation by Biofuels or by Saving and Restoring Forests? Science Vol 317, p902. doi 10.1126/science.1141361.

14. AFP, 17th October 2007. IMF concerned by impact of biofuels on food prices.

15. Lord Bassam of Brighton, 29th March 2007. Parliamentary answer. Column WA310.

16. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, October 2007. Biofuels - risks and opportunities, p5.

17. Benjamin Low, 24th February 2006. CPO Prices Seen Up In 06 As Biodiesel Fuels Demand

18. You can see the calculations here:

19. Helene Le Roux, 27th July 2007. Singer, songwriter and activist promotes green energy in Africa. Engineering News Online.

20. John Vidal, ibid.

21. Mark Olden, 25th October 2007. Observations on: biofuels. New Statesman.