10 March 2013

The decision by MPs to continue to offer subsidies to crops that can be burned in power stations to create electricity is quite irrational and will cause more environmental harm than good. This problem began with what seemed like a simple and natural solution to our energy problems: plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow which is balanced by its release when burned to create power. But research has shown that many biofuel crops produce more CO2 than they save.[1]

Grain, the NGO that supports small farmers across the world, identifies the EU carbon reduction framework as the source of the problem. The latest proposal sets a target of an energy equivalent of 40 Mtonnes of oil to be provided by biofuels as part of the 20% renewables target by 2020. While the Green Party welcomes the emphasis on renewables, it is keen to ensure that this is not achieved at the cost of the destruction of habitats and livelihoods. The expansion of biofuel production can only increase the pressure on land in the majority world, destroy more habitats for endangered species, and threaten the livelihoods of some of the world's poorest people. Oxfam also express deep concern about this policy, arguing that it will increase global hunger directly, through removing peasants from their land, and indirectly, by increasing the price of staple foods on the global market.[2]

Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party's top candidate for the south-west in the 2014 European Elections argues
The present EU policy framework is far too blunt an instrument. All biofuels and sources of biomass are accepted as falling within the definition of 'renewable', even though in some cases they are found to be significant net carbon emitters. So they help the government get towards its 20% target even though they do nothing to help us reduce our carbon emissions.

The fundamental problem arises because the government is allowing subsidies for industrial scale burning of biofuels, yet setting a low rate for the Feed in Tariff for new domestic and small-scale generators. This encourages the global market in biofuels rather than supporting local community renewables development.

The other side of the biofuels debate is the land grabbing that is gathering pace in countries that have less power in the global trade system and whose politicians are prepared to see their land used to feed the lust for energy of those in richer and more powerful societies. Campaign group Grain have accounted for 17 million hectares of land that has been grabbed by global agribusiness to produce fuel crops between 2002 and 2012.[3] Much of this land is in some of the poorest countries in the world; it has been diverted from producing subsistence for local people into growing crops to produce energy for the fuel-hungry West.

Molly Scott Cato

[1] Roger Harrabin, BBC website, 6 March - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21672840

[2] Oxfam (2012), 'The Hunger Grains: The Fight is on to Scrap EU biofuel mandates' - http://www.oxfam.org/en/grow/policy/hunger-grains

[3] Grain (2013), 'Land grabbing for biofuels must stop' - http://www.grain.org/article/entries/4653-land-grabbing-for-biofuels-must-stop

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