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Biofuels: A Disaster in the Making

Simone Lovera writes:

Dear all,

Please find below an alert to the Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change on the risks of biofuels. The letter calls upon governments to suspend all subsidies and other forms of inequitabe support for the import and export of biofuels, in the light of the negative environmental and social impacts caused by the large-scale export-oriented production of biofuels. While recognizing that some forms of locally and nationally oriented biofuel production could be sustainable, the letter also calls for strict regulations and effective enforcement measures, to ensure biofuel production at the national level does not impact negatively upon Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and their livelihoods.

We just started gathering signatures to this letter. Please let us know before Saturday 4 November (at simonelovera@ if your organization is willing to support it. Other feedback is welcome too.

Best wishes,


Simone Lovera
Campaigns coordinator
Global Forest Coalition
Bruselas 2273
Asunción, Paraguay
tel/fax: 595-21-663654
Email: simonelovera@

The undersigned NGOs, Indigenous Peoples Organizations, farmer’s movements and individuals call upon the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change to immediately suspend all subsidies and other forms of inequitable support for the import and export of biofuels.

We recognize that the local production and consumption of biomass plays an important role in sustainable livelihood strategies of, in particular, rural women in developing countries. Certain small-scale and strictly regulated sustainable forms of biofuel production can be beneficial at the national level. However, the modalities of biomass consumption and production must be carefully analyzed in conjunction with communities, to introduce adaptive measures that will maintain and enhance the patterns of sustainability, while avoiding negative impacts on health and the adverse effects inherent to increases in demand or changes in socioeconomic settings. Solar energy often offers a sustainable alternative to traditional biomass.

Meanwhile, international trade in biofuels is already causing a negative impact on food sovereignty, rural livelihoods, forests and other ecosystems, and these negative impacts are expected to accumulate rapidly. Large-scale, export-oriented production of biofuel requires large-scale monocultures of trees, sugarcane, corn, oilpalm, soy and other crops. These monocultures already form the number one cause of rural depopulation and deforestation worldwide. The rapidly increasing demand for these crops as a source of biofuel will lead to:

  • increased land competition leading to further land concentration, the marginalization of small-scale agriculture and the widespread conversion of forests and other ecosystems;
  • arable land that is currently used to grow food being used to grow fuel, leading to staggering food prices and causing hunger, malnutrition and impoverishment amongst the poorest sectors of society;
  • rural unemployment and depopulation;
  • the destruction of the traditions, cultures, languages and spiritual values of Indigenous Peoples and rural communities;
  • the extensive use of agro-chemicals, which deteriorate human health and ecosystems
  • the destruction of watersheds and the pollution of rivers, lakes and streams;
  • droughts and other local and regional climatic extremes; and
  • the extensive use of genetically modified organisms leading to unprecedented risks.

These effects will have particularly a negative impact on women and Indigenous Peoples, who are economically marginalized and more dependent on natural resources like water and forests.

Biofuels are a disaster in the making. Existing legally binding standards, regulations and enforcement mechanisms in the (potential) production countries are absolutely insufficient to prevent the above-mentioned impacts. International demand for biofuels is already surpassing supply in key countries like Malaysia and Brazil, giving an important push to the expansion of destructive crops like oil palm and sugar cane. Initiatives to produce these monocultures “responsibly” are rejected by many NGOs and social movements in the production countries themselves, who have emphasized that the above-mentioned negative social and environmental impacts are inherent to the large-scale production of monocultures.

There is nothing green or sustainable to imported or exported biofuel. Instead of destroying the lands and livelihoods of local communities and Indigenous Peoples in the South through yet another form of colonialism, we call upon Northern countries to recognize their responsibility for destroying the planet’s climate system, to reduce their energy consumption to sustainable levels, to pay the climate debt they have created by failing to do so until now and to dramatically increase investment in solar energy and sustainable wind energy.

We also call upon all governments to develop and effectively enforce environmental and social standards and regulations that ensure that national biofuel production industries do not destroy the livelihoods and ecosystems of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Corporations should be held strictly liable for any social and environmental damage that has occurred and they should be effectively prosecuted if they do not uphold environmental and labor laws.

Signed (as of 1 Dec 2006):

Global Forest Coalition
Pacific Indigenous Peoples Environment Coalition
Institute of Cultural Affairs, Ghana
International alliance of Indigenous and Tribal People of the Tropical Forest
World Rainforest Movement
Global Justice Ecology Project
Friends of the Earth-Latin America and the Caribbean
Indigenous Nationalities International centre for development, Nepal
ICTI, Indonesia
Inter-Mountain Peoples’Education and Culture in Thaliand Association, Thailand
Namanga Urban Community Environmental Group, Kenya
Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organisation of Africa
Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee - East Africa
Prakuyo Community, Tanzania
Consejo Indigena Mesoamericano - CIMA
Simba Maasai Outreach Organisation, Kenya
Galesa Environment Conservation Organisation, Kenya
CORE, India
Red America Latina Libre de Transgenicos
Sobrevivencia/Friends of the Earth-Paraguay
CENSAT Agua Viva/Friends of the Earth-Colombia
Friends of the Earth-Western Australia
Groundwork/ Friends of the Earth-South Africa
RAP-AL Colombia
Acción Ecológica, Ecuador
Instituto de Estudios Ecologistas del Tercer Mundo, Ecuador
Fundacion para la Promocion del Conocimiento Indigena, Panama
FASE-ES, Brazil
Ecological Society of the Philippines
Forest Peoples Programme, UK
Asociación Indígena Ambiental, Panama
Worldforests, Scotland
Bhartiya Kissan Union
Robin Wood, Germany
Sarhad Conservation Network, Pakistan
Centre Internationnal d'Etudes Forestières et Environnementales, Cameroon
GM Watch
REDES/ Friends of the Earth-Uruguay
SAM/Friends of the Earth Malaysia.
Onehemisphere, Sweden
WALHI/Friends of the Earth-Indonesia
KEPS/HKCA, Pakistan
Lismore Climate Action Group, Australia
Rainforest Information Centre, Australia
Biowatch, South Africa
Munlochy Vigil, Scotland
Grupo de Reflexion Rural, Argentina
Timberwatch, South Africa
Fundacion Ambiente Total del Chaco, Argentina
Corporate Europe Observatory
Costa Carrera, Chile
Agrarian group of ATTAC in Wuppertal, Germany
Bezirksverband der Grünen Jugend Unterfranken, Germany
AG-Genfrei der Grünen Jugend Bayern, Germany
Climate Change Action Network, Australia
Big Scrub Environment Centre, Australia
Genethics Foundation
XminY Solidarityfund, Netherlands
Amigu di Tera / FoE Curaçao
PENGON/ Friends of the Earth-Palestine
Anthra, India
Yakshi , India
Andhra Pradesh Adivasi Aikya Vedika, India
Friends of the Earth- Ghana
LIFE e.V., Germany
Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Nigeria
Veterinarios sin Fronteras, España
IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy
Maudesco/Friends of the Earth-Mauritius
CESTA/Friends of the Earth-El Salvador
Friends of the Earth-Nepal
CELCOR-Friends of the Earth Papua New Guinea
Friends of the Earth-Finland
Pembina Institute
Blue Planet Project
Lewis District Green Party
National Society for Conservationists/Friends of the Earth-Hungary
South African Climate Action Network
Safe Food Coalition, South Africa
Progressio, UK
Friends of the Oldman River, Canada
Pacific Institute of Resource Management, New Zealand
Edmonton Friends of the North Environmental Society
ASEED Europe
ATPNE/Friends of the Earth-Tunesia
Greenpeace Juegend-Munchen
First Nations Environmental Network, Canada
The Sierra Clun, Prairie Chapter, USA
Friends of the Earth-Slovakia
Friends of the Earth-Australia
Centinela, Venezuela
NOAH/Friends of the Earth-Denmark
Movimiento Madre Tierra/Amigos de la Tierra-Honduras
Federación Amigos de la Tierra-Argentina
Rainforest Action Network

Rob Law,
Tom Lines,
James Porteous,
Anurag Modi /Shamim ,
Mangal Singh ,
Shramik Adivasi Sanghathana,
Gurudev Parisar,
Harda ,
Toyoyuki Kawakami,
Hidetoshi Imaizumi, Japan,
Paul Harris, Australia,
Stephan Groetschel, Germany,
Iris Altmann, Germany,
Rick Tanaka, Katoomba, Australia,
Danny Harvey

Editorial Notes: UPDATE (Nov 1): Andrew Leonard, columnist for Salon, comments on this article: Biofuel neocolonialism?:
... SciDev.Net reports that on Oct. 27, Farba Senghor, Senegal's minister of agriculture, rural hydraulics and food security, announced a plan to ramp up biofuel production through a system of public-private partnerships in which "Brazil will provide scientific and technological know-how, Indian entrepreneurs will supply the capital, and Senegal will offer land and labor." NGOs that aim to resist the rollout of biofuel production are making a tactical error when they frame it in the classic rhetoric of North-South exploitation. When India and Brazil get together with Senegal, that's about as South-South as you can get. This is not to say that countries that once bore the brunt of imperialism and colonialization cannot turn around and inflict those sins upon others, but at some point, perhaps one should concede that a country like Senegal does have some agency of its own.
-BA UPDATE (Nov 5) - Andrew Leonard has published a follow up piece on Salon entitled The battle for biofuels, based on this long critique of the letter by Biopact. We'll feature both in the upcoming headlines. UPDATE Nov 6: Added more signatories. -AF

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