CoP 11 treads middle ground on biofuels

Admits that biofuel technologies may aggravate drivers of biodiversity loss, but stresses on their role in mitigating climate change

By M Suchitra
Published: Monday 15 October 2012

imageThe ongoing biodiversity convention in Hyderabad seems undecided about the impacts of biofuels on the environment. The eleventh Conference of the Parties (CoP 11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has merely said that it would review the progress of implementation of its earlier decision to “consider ways and means to promote the positive and minimise or avoid the negative impacts of the production and use of biofuels on biodiversity”.  The decision document, adopted by the Parties on October 12, indicates CBD’s ambivalent stance on biofuels.

Growing evidence from across the world suggests that biofuels have adverse impacts on biodiversity, human rights and food security. In April this year, ActionAid, an international funding organisation, published a report on the impacts of biofuel production and consumption on the poor and the marginalised communities across the world. The report—Fuel for thought—examined the effects of the European Union’s biofuel policies and targets on global and local food security, land rights, climate change, labour rights and women’s rights. The EU has a target of 10 per cent renewable energy in transport by 2020, and 88 per cent of this is expected to come from biofuels.

Biofuels causing food price spike

The ActionAid report has pointed out that mandates and policy support for biofuels, and increasing biomass usage, have created a new demand for crops for fuel which places new pressures on agricultural markets and limited resources like land, water, and nutrients. Many of the key resources needed to produce biofuels are presently used directly as food or as feed for animals, and there is increased pressure both directly and indirectly on food prices, says the report.

With increased demand for biofuels, there is increase in competition not only for key commodities like vegetable oils, staple crops such as maize, soy, wheat and sugar but also for resources needed to grow these crops, including land, soil, nutrients and water. By 2020, prices of oilseeds may be up by 33 per cent, vegetable oils 20 per cent and wheat 16 per cent. Price of maize is likely to increase up to 22 per cent and sugar up to 21 per cent.  The report also gives case studies from different parts of the globe on the negative impacts of increased biofuel production on rural communities. Globally, it is estimated that biofuel production involves at least 50 million hectares (ha) of land grabbed from the rural poor and this has contributed significantly to the global food crisis.

The document, which the Parties adopted, starts by acknowledging the concerns that the development of biofuel technologies “may” result in increased demand for biomass and aggravate drivers of biodiversity loss such as land use and introduction of invasive alien species. But this is followed by a statement in praise of biofuels: “…also acknowledging the potential for biofuels technologies to make a positive contribution to mitigating climate change, another of the main drivers of the biodiversity loss, and generating additional income, especially in rural areas.”

Treading carefully on the middle ground between these two statements, CBD appears essentially neutral towards a force that must now be recognised as one of the leading new drivers of biodiversity loss, points out  Rachel Smolker, Energy Justice Network. “As civil society organisations, we have followed developments around biofuels for some years now, and we have seen only deforestation, expanding industrial monocultures, cultivation of invasive species, development of risky technologies like synthetic biology and escalating global hunger,” she comments in a short-note on the CBD’s stance on biofuel. The CBD seems to have missed a large-number of case study reports from around the world detailing the actual negative impacts of increasing production of biofuels on local communities and biodiversity, she says.

CBD not a food venue: Canada

The report, Food for thought, has quoted the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) as stating that mandates and targets have created a new demand for crops for fuel which “places new pressures on agricultural markets, and biofuels gradually increase the link between energy markets, which are highly volatile, and food markets, which are also volatile, further increasing the volatility of the food market. 

The reluctance of the developed countries to further deliberate on the linkage between biofuels production and the food crisis was quite visible during the discussions in of the working group of the CoP 11.  Canada even went to the extent of saying that “CBD is not a food venue”, which means CBD should not take into consideration the impact of biofuels on food but limit its scope to biodiversity as if these were entirely independent of each other.

But Bolivia, a member of the G 77 Group of the developing countries, reminded the Parties that the CBD forum belongs to the people. And it is indeed a part of the world where one billion people of the world’s seven billion population continue to live in hunger, a situation in which biofuels play a key role.


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