By redirecting corn, grains, and other food crops to use as an energy source, biofuel policy in the United States and Europe has been driving up the price of food and contributing to ongoing international shortages. Most recently, the New York Times ran an expose on the devastating effects these policies have had on the poor of Guatemala.
Europe in particular has established new standards mandating that all transportation fuels contain 10 percent biofuel by 2020. While amendements have been proposed to limit the biofuels made from food crops or on land previously devoted top food crops to only half of that portion, they remain in limbo.
So it’s encouraging that a new report from the consultancy CE Delft — commissioned by Greenpeace, Transport & Environment, the European Environmental Bureau and BirdLife Europe — is calling for Europe to meet its 2020 goal without reliance on biofuels from food crops, and laying out the steps for how to get there. GreenBusiness has the story:
The CE Delft report argues the targets can be met through greater investment in fuel efficiency measures, waste and residue-based biofuels, and electric vehicles, alongside tighter rules to phase out the use of biofuels made from land-based food or energy crops.
“The EU Commission’s decision to put a limit on the use of crop-based biofuels is a step in the right direction,” said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace. “The growing use of transport fuels from crops has driven up food prices, led to more deforestation in places like Indonesia to grow palm oil for fuel, and made climate change worse as a result.”
But he warned that the EU’s proposals needed to be tightened to ensure biofuels that contribute to deforestation and food price inflation are phased out.
“The most serious flaw in the new European biofuel policy is that it does not hold biofuel suppliers accountable for the emissions from indirect land use change, where crops for biofuel displace food production and as a result more rainforests and peatland are cleared to grow food crops,” he said. “So fuel suppliers can still use harmful biofuels like palm oil from Indonesia and claim credit for cutting emissions.”
The report recommends that both the EU and member states should act urgently to “phase out direct and indirect support for land-based biofuels and [adopt] a trajectory from current consumption levels towards near-zero use in order to prevent further environmental and social damage”.
It also calls for tougher reporting requirements for biofuel producers covering their impact on land use and more demanding sustainability criteria for both biofuels and bio-gas.
“The EU and member states need to put a robust policy framework into place that speeds up energy efficiency developments, as well as the production and use of biofuels from waste and residues with no alternative uses,” the report concludes. “This biofuel strategy should be part of a broad biomass and bioenergy strategy, as the sustainable feedstock is limited and other applications will also need sustainable bioenergy to meet their climate goals.”
Almost 870 million people around the world were chronically malnourished between 2010 and 2012. Studies of the food crisis suffered around the globe in 2008 determined that western biofuel policies played a role. And while agricultural production is able to keep pace with global demand for food, that balance becomes more difficult to meet once demand for biofuels is added to the mix, especially during years when the weather is less amenable to crops. So the biofuel demands of Europe — as well as the United States — contribute to this problem by both repurposing existing food supplies, and encouraging farmers to dedicate their land to growing biofuel crops rather than food crops as prices for that produce is driven upwards.
Needless to say, a good deal of human suffering can be produced if Europe can move its energy policy away from the use of any biofuel that impinges on peoples’ food supplies.