Fuel for thought

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As of 15 April, all petrol and diesel sold at British filling stations has to be blended with biofuels.

The British government, through the Renewable Fuel Transport Obligation (RFTO), and the European Union have continued to push ahead with biofuel expansion despite scientific studies which show that this is one of the quickest ways of heating the planet, and despite United Nations (UN) agencies warning that biofuels are fuelling a catastrophic food crisis.

In February this year two peer-reviewed studies on biofuels were published in the journal Science. These studies showed that converting land for biofuels releases vastly more carbon than is "saved" by burning less fossil fuels. They confirm that for every hectare of land used for bioenergy crops, another hectare of natural land will be converted for biofuel or food production.

The "carbon debt" from putting more land under intensive agriculture will take at least decades, but in many cases centuries, to repay. Right now people in Argentina's Buenos Aires are choking from smoke produced by some 300 fires burning across 70,000 hectares of what used to be biodiverse farmland and ecosystems. Farmers are burning land in order to create new pastures for cattle as previously grazed fields are now devoted to the more profitable production of soya.

Just six months ago Paraguay experienced its worst ever fires, and earlier this year the Brazilian government admitted that deforestation and forest fires in the Amazon basin were rising again - all because of high soya prices.

While tens of millions of hectares of forests are facing destruction, biofuels are now widely acknowledged to have triggered, or at least worsened, the worst global food crisis in decades. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, global food prices have risen by 57 percent in the past year. However, staple food prices in many countries of the global south have doubled or even trebled, causing millions more people to go without enough food.

Agrofuels are helping to push up prices in at least three ways: they are rapidly pushing up the demand for food, they are tying the price of food to the rapidly increasing price of oil and they are giving agribusiness, in alliance with energy companies, even greater control over food markets and prices.

Nonetheless the EU, with the apparent consent of the British government, is set to approve a new Fuel Quality Directive this summer. The British government has warned privately that this will create a biofuel target of more than 25 percent by 2020. Further legislation for a different 10 percent mandatory biofuel target has also been announced.

Governments will not cease to support the agrofuel industry regardless of the cost to people, the environment and the climate, without strong popular opposition. We are seeing the beginning of a protest movement in Britain and elsewhere, with demonstrations outside Downing Street and some ten other places when the RFTO was introduced.

More such protests will and need to follow - including a Day of Action Against Agrofuels, organised as part of this year's Climate Camp, on 6 August (www.climatecamp.org.uk).


Almuth is from Biofuelwatch.