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Right to eat comes before fuel, Swiss minister says

Claudinê Gonçalves, swiss info
An international conference is taking place in São Paulo, Brazil, to discuss biofuels and how promoting them could help solve global security and environmental issues.

In an interview with swissinfo, Environment and Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger explains the Swiss position: that the right to food comes before the right to mobility

… Switzerland is one of the first countries to have equipped itself with laws that set specific criteria for fostering the development of biofuels. But Leuenberger explains why extracting energy from renewable organic matter isn’t a silver bullet for the world’s energy woes.

swissinfo: Are biofuels a problem or an opportunity?

Moritz Leuenberger: Both. At first, biofuels raised a lot of hopes. But now we see that they are more harmful than we thought at first. And we must not forget the problem of the land set aside for food production. That is why we need to correct certain misunderstandings and make a global assessment.

While the European Union is still looking for criteria to evaluate biofuels, in Switzerland we already have a set of criteria to determine whether the ecological assessment is positive or not.

According to our criteria, biofuels must be less polluting that those deriving from fossil fuels, not harm biodiversity and must respect the social conditions of workers

swissinfo: But we have to distinguish between different types of biofuel?

M.L.: Currently there is a lot of talk about the second generation of biofuels, particularly those based on vegetable waste. If this vegetable matter is not used to feed people or animals, then that would be a reasonable alternative.

But in this case we still have to ensure that the plants used are not being grown purely to produce biofuels. The principle role of plants is to feed, and that must be preserved.

… swissinfo: What is Switzerland’s message at this International Conference on Biofuels in São Paulo?

M.L.: It is that the right to live, the right not to go hungry and the right to food come before the right to mobility. You cannot sacrifice human rights on the altar of mobility. These principles are not directed against anyone. They are universal and valid for everyone.

Of course people also need to move. Moving around is the very sense of life itself. I am not defending immobility but you cannot sacrifice fundamental rights. So I say yes to mobility but it has to be a mobility that is sustainable. Biofuels can play an important role in that but it is necessary to channel their production in a sustainable way too.
(18 November 2008)
What is astonishing about the Swiss position is how reasonable it is. In contrast, the larger countries make their biofuels policy on the basis of wishful thinking and special interests. -BA

South Korean company takes over part of Madagascar to grow biofuels

Richard Spencer, The Telegraph
Daewoo Logistics is taking a 99-year lease on 3.2 million acres of land, half the size of Belgium, to grow maize and biofuels, building its own roads and other infrastructure to service the new farms that will be created on currently undeveloped open space.

The amount is almost half the currently farmed land in the country.

The deal is a sign of the concern of many countries, particularly the intensely populated nations of the far east, about ensuring the safety and reliability of food and other supplies in an increasingly competitive world…
(20 November 2008)

Cutting Emissions in Rural China

Jiang Gaoming, WorldChanging
Mobilizing farmers to use readily accessible, traditional bioenergy sources — like straw — may go a long way toward helping the country reduce its carbon footprint.

Coal-mining efforts have recently been shifting from China’s northern Shanxi province to an even more vulnerable ecosystem: the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Many worry that if this area becomes the next big provider of energy and chemical products, large amounts of its natural resources will be destroyed beyond the point of restoration, as we have seen in Shanxi. We must remember that no amount of money can replace the soil carried off by sandstorms.

China’s population is mainly rural, and if that population (all 800 million of them) were to realize their full potential for consumption, we will have no way to control continually increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Many wealthy farmers are already using energy-hungry appliances such as air conditioners, refrigerators and microwave ovens, as well as coal for heating and cooking. Yet, they typically ignore the traditional bioenergy sources at their doorsteps — like straw – by simply burning them off in the fields.

To break out of the vicious circle of using fossil-fuel energy, China must shift its reliance to clean energy sources such as bioenergy, solar power and wind power. Rural communities have the means to contribute to this transformation by developing their own energy, which would reduce their toll on their immediate environment and decrease their collective greenhouse gas emissions.

So what if the millions of villages in China were mobilized?
(19 November 2008)