Biofuels may threaten environment, U.N. warns
The Associated Press, Jan. 23, 2008
The world's rush to embrace biofuels is causing a spike in the price of corn and other crops and could worsen water shortages and force poor communities off their land, a U.N. official said Wednesday.
Speaking at a regional forum on bioenergy, Regan Suzuki of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization acknowledged that biofuels are better for the environment than fossil fuels and boost energy security for many countries.
However, she said those benefits must be weighed against the pitfalls -- many of which are just now emerging as countries convert millions of acres to palm oil, sugar cane and other crops used to make biofuels.
"Biofuels have become a flash point through which a wide range of social and environmental issues are currently being played out in the media," Suzuki told delegates at the forum, sponsored by the U.N. and the Thai government.
Foremost among the concerns is increased competition for agricultural land, which Suzuki warned has already caused a rise in corn prices in the
She also said
"Particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, land availability is a critical issue," Suzuki said. "There are clear comparative advantages for tropical and subtropical countries in growing biofuel feed stocks but it is often these same countries in which resource and land rights of vulnerable groups and protected forests are weakest."
Initially, biofuels were held up as a panacea for countries struggling to cope with the rising cost of oil or those looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union, for example, plans to replace 10 percent of transport fuel with biofuels made from energy crops such as sugar cane and rapeseed oil by 2020.
But in recent months, scientists, private agencies and even the British government have said biofuels could do more harm than good. Rather than protecting the environment, they say energy crops destroy natural forests that actually store carbon and thus are a key tool in the fight to reduce global warming.
Some of those doubts were on display Wednesday at the U.N. forum, with experts saying many countries in
Thailand, for example, is considering delaying the introduction of diesel blended with 2 percent biofuel for two months until April because of palm oil shortages, while the Philippines is considering shelving a biofuels law over concerns about the negative environmental effects.
Varghese Paul, a forest and biodiversity expert with the Energy and Resources Institute in
"An outbreak of pests and diseases could wipe out entire plantations in one stroke," Paul said.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Biofuel rush harmful, Oxfam warns
The rush for biofuels could harm the world's poorest people, Oxfam has said.
BBCNews.com, Nov. 1, 2007
In a new report, the
The European Union wants to cut the CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels and has demanded that 10% of all transport fuels should come from plants by 2020.
But Oxfam warns poor farmers risk being forced off their land as industrial farmers cash in on the biofuel bonanza.
Its report says to meet the rise in demand, the EU will have to import biofuels made from crops like sugar cane and palm oil from developing countries.
The rush by big companies and governments in
This could destroy their livelihoods, lead to the exploitation of workers and hit food availability and prices, says the report.
It is now demanding the EU reviews its biofuel policy and wants safeguards put in place to protect the poor.
The European Commission says it is working to make sure its biofuel policy does not backfire.
The BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin said there were also fears over the environmental cost of making fuel from crops like maize.
Scientists have said it takes so much energy to produce some biofuels that it would be cleaner overall to burn petrol in our cars, he said.
To make it worse, he added, valuable rainforest is still being cleared to make way for fuel crops like palm oil.
Robert Bailey, a policy advisor at Oxfam, said: "In the scramble to supply the EU and the rest of the world with biofuels, poor people are getting trampled.
"The EU proposals will exacerbate the problem. It is unacceptable that poor people in developing countries should bear the cost of questionable attempts to cut emissions in
"Biofuels are not a panacea - even if the EU is able to reach the 10% target sustainably, and Oxfam doubts that it can, it will only shave a few per cent of emissions off a continually growing total," he said.
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