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EU set to scrap biofuels target amid fears of food crisis

Ian Traynor, The Guardian
The European commission is backing away from its insistence on imposing a compulsory 10% quota of biofuels in all petrol and diesel by 2020, a central plank of its programme to lead the world in combating climate change.

Amid a worsening global food crisis exacerbated, say experts and critics, by the race to divert food or feed crops into biomass for the manufacture of vehicle fuel, and inundated by a flood of expert advice criticising the shift to renewable fuel, the commission appears to be getting cold feet about its biofuels target.
(19 April 2008)

Biofuels under attack as world food prices soar

Marlowe Hood, AFP
Hailed until only months ago as a silver bullet in the fight against global warming, biofuels are now accused of snatching food out of the mouths of the poor.

Billions have been poured into developing sugar- and grain-based ethanol and biodiesel to help wean rich economies from their addiction to carbon-belching fossil fuels, the overwhelming source of man-made global warming.

Heading the rush are the United States, Brazil and Canada, which are eagerly transforming corn, wheat, soy beans and sugar cane into cleaner-burning fuel, and the European Union (EU) is to launch its own ambitious programme.

But as soaring prices for staples bring more of the planet’s most vulnerable people face-to-face with starvation, the image of biofuels has suddenly changed from climate saviour to a horribly misguided experiment.
(20 April 2008)

Biofuels won’t solve world energy problem: Shell

Alex Lawler, Reuters
Biofuels will not solve the world’s energy problem, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell said on Sunday, amid growing criticism of their environmental and social benefits.

The remarks follow protests in Brazil and Europe against fuels derived from food crops. Food shortages and rising costs have set off rioting and protests in countries including Haiti, Cameroon, Niger and Indonesia.

“The essential point of biofuels is over time they will play a role,” Jeroen van der Veer, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, told reporters on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum.

“But there are high expectations what role they will play in the short term.”

The oil minister for Qatar, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, had harsher words to say about biofuels …
(20 April 2008)

Alexander Farrell, Berkeley Biofuels Expert, Dies At 46

Alexander Farrell, a University of California, Berkeley associate professor who was advising the state on the use of alternative fuels, died this week at his home in San Francisco, according to the university. He was 46.

Colleagues and friends expressed shock and grief at Farrell’s death, noting that it came at a time when his career trajectory was climbing rapidly and his life’s work was finding an audience with policy makers.

… An engineer by training, Farrell’s research focused on projects with practical and timely applications, included biofuels, hybrid electric vehicles, hydrogen-powered and transportation sustainability. He came to Berkeley in 2003 after teaching and doing research at Carnegie Mellon University. Since 2006, he had directed the campus’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center.

“He was one of the leading lights in the area of low-carbon fuels and energy systems, and his career was on a dramatic rise,” said colleague Dan Kammen, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group and of public policy who helped recruit Farrell to UC Berkeley and co-authored many papers with him, including a just-released report on plug-in hybrid vehicles.
(18 April 2008)

A Sustainable Biofuels Consensus
Sustainable Energy Forum

Our vision is of a landscape that provides food, fodder, fiber, and energy, that offers opportunities for rural development; that diversifies energy supply restores ecosystems, protects biodiversity, and sequesters carbon; and that contributes to global peace.

When produced responsibly, increased global biofuels trade, transport use and production can be costeffective, equitable and sustainable. Many nations have the ability to produce their own biofuels derived both from agricultural and forest biomass and from urban wastes, subject to adequate capacity building, technology transfer and access to finance.

Trade in biofuels surplus to local requirements can thus open up new markets and stimulate the investment needed to promote the full potential of many impoverished countries.

This vision also responds to the growing threat of passing a tipping point in climate system dynamics.

The urgency and the scale of the problem are such that the capital investment requirements are massive, and more typical of the energy sector than the land use sectors. The time line for action is decades, not centuries, to partially shift from fossil carbon to sustainable live biomass.

The Sustainable Biofuels Consensus calls upon governments, the private sector, and other relevant stakeholders to take concerted, collaborative and coordinated action to ensure sustainable trade, use and production of biofuels, so that biofuels may play their key role in the transformation of the energy sector, climate stabilization and resulting worldwide renaissance of rural areas, all of which are urgently needed.

Summary of Recommendations

  • Integrate and better coordinate policy frameworks
  • Assess benefits and impacts of biofuels trade, use and production, and monitor them
  • Address negative indirect effects of biofuels trade, use and production
  • Reward positive impacts and investments, including through carbon management
  • Use informed dialogues to build consensus for new projects
  • Increase investment in research, development and demonstration
  • Build capacity to enable producers to manage carbon and water
  • Make sure that trade policies and climate change policies work together

… At the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, we were a group of women and men, based in 12 different countries and heavily involved, from different perspectives, with biofuels, who met there during 24-28 March 2008. We were inspired by the original proposal of Prof. John Mathews, of Macquarie University, Australia, to focus on “Prospects for Global Biopact between North and South on Biofuels”, a pact to sustainable free global trade in biofuels. We were there in our personal capacity and operated under Chatham House Rules, which allow participants to use the information discussed at the conference but maintains the confidentiality of the speaker. We came to a consensus on an approach for the sustainable trade, use and production of transport biofuels.
(April 2008)
One of the more thoughtful approaches to biofuels. -BA

EB contributor John Mathews writes:
I thought EnergyBulletin might be interested in the attached document, that results from an intensive conference staged at the Rockefeller Foundation’s study center at Bellagio, on Lake Como, in the week March 24-28. It is a response to the recent controversies over biofuels and their sustainability and particularly recent discussions in the NYTimes over the issues associated with biofuels grown in the US. The Bellagio document invites consideration of the issues at a global level rather than confining the discussion just to the US. The document is downloadable from:

Professor John A. Mathews
Macquarie Graduate School of Management
Macquarie University