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Time to put the brakes on biofuels

Robert Bailey, Guardian
The latest controversy over biofuels backs up Oxfam’s report published last week. Profit, pressure from industry and farm subsidies show that there is more behind this enthusiasm for the crops than a desire to stop climate change.

If politicians want to reduce emissions and stop global warming, biofuels are not the solution. Recent research suggests that biofuels may increase greenhouse gas emissions rather than reduce them. And by pushing up demand for agricultural land, they’re causing farming to expand into other areas that store carbon – such as wetlands and forests – releasing way more carbon than is saved through biofuels.

Nor will biofuels offer the holy grail of fuel security and stop us from having to curb our insatiable demand for oil or oil alternatives. Oxfam estimates that if the entire corn harvest of the USA were diverted to ethanol, it would only be able to replace about one gallon in every six sold in the USA. And if the entire world supply of oilseed were converted to biodiesel, this would only be able to replace, at most, 10% of global diesel consumption.

When you put aside the inconvenient facts that biofuels will not save the planet or deliver fuel security, there are other compelling reasons to put the brakes on biofuels. The rush to increase supply is clearly linked to land grabs, labour rights exploitation and environmental damage.

Robert Bailey is a policy adviser for Oxfam
(4 July 2008)

Another Inconvenient Truth
How biofuel policies are deepening poverty and accelerating climate change
Oxfam International
The current biofuel policies of rich countries are neither a solution to the climate crisis nor the oil crisis, and instead are contributing to a third: the food crisis. In poor countries, biofuels may offer some genuine development opportunities, but the potential economic, social, and environmental costs are severe, and decision makers should proceed with caution.
(25 June 2008)
58-page report.

Secret report: Biofuels upped food price

Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian
Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% – far more than previously estimated – according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush.

… The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.
(4 July 2008)
Related at the Guardian: The appetite for biofuel starves the poor by Benjamin Senauer (University of Minnesota). [Posted this on EB a few days ago]

UPDATE (July 8): A PDF of the World Bank report is now available online. Hat-tip to Dr. Larry Hughes.