EU Development Days: Panel on Promoting Biofuels, Creating Scarcity?

On 16-17 October, the European Commission is hosting EU Development Days, a two-day forum on international affairs and development cooperation that will see Heads of State, Nobel Prize laureates, business leaders, and development professionals meet to discuss some of the global issue that are at risk of slipping down the international agenda in the wake of the economic crisis.

17 October. Panel on Promoting Biofuels, Creating Scarcity? This Panel was organised by ActionAid International, International Alliance of Catholic Development Agencies – CIDSE, European NGO Confederation for Relief and Development – Concord, Cyrpus ISland-wide NGO Development Platform – CYINDEP, EuropAfrica, Oxfam International.

Panelists

  • Jasmin Battista, Personal Assistant to Commissioner Oettinger, Directorate-General for Energy, European Commission 
  • Phil Bloomer, Director, Campaigns and Policy, Oxfam Great Britain Belinda Calaguas, Head of Campaigns and Advocacy, ActionAid International 
  • Roman Herre, Policy Coordinator on EU Agrofuels policy, Food First Information and Action Network – FIAN 
  • Johan Kuylenstierna, Executive Director, Stockholm Environment Institute 
  • Rehmawati Retno Winami, Programme Director, Sawit Watch Indonesia 
  • Stina Soewarta, Member of Cabinet, Directorate-GEneral for Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid, European Commission 
  • Rob Vierhout, Secretary General, ePure 

Aid and rights groups have welcomed the European Commission’s plan to limit the use of biofuels made from land crops, but urged the EU to go further to help stop farmers in developing countries being forced from their fields.

Belinda Calaguas, Head of Campaigns and Advocacy at ActionAid International, welcomed the Commission’s turnaround, and the acknowledgement that there is a catastrophic link between the use of certain biofuels and land-grabbing, price hikes and hunger.

The European Commission has proposed to halve the quantity of food-based biofuels used to meet the EU’s 10 % renewable energy target. The move, which could take two years to come into force, is aimed at stimulating the use of second and third generation biofuels from materials like straw, algae or waste. Such fuel sources emit less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels and do not interfere with global food production.

Indonesia is one of the countries most affected by palm oil production. Palm oil producers obtain operating permits from local administrations rather than the central government. The Programme Director at Sawit Watch Indonesia, Rahmawati Retno Winarni, said that farming communities there face jail or violence if they protest against being evicted from their land. She said the EU has the power to influence events on the ground, particularly if the Union’s policy includes free and fair community consent in the handover of land.

Phil Bloomer, Director, Campaigns and Policy, Oxfam Great Britain, said that at least 200 million hectares of land has changed hands, much of it without proper compensation, and that the major driver for this has been biofuels.

According to 2010 data, biofuels make up about 4.7 % of the EU’s energy mix, with food-based fuels accounting for just over 4 %. The Commission plans to phase out subsidies for these first generation fuels by 2020, to focus on second and third generation biofuels.

Jasmin Battista, Personal Assistant to EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, said the best way forward is to establish a clear framework for making biofuels sustainable. Those which provide few benefits over fossil fuels should be discarded, while attention should also be given to high prices and price volatility. People must also reconsider how they produce and consume food, she said.

Robert Vierhout, the Secretary General of ePURE – the European renewable ethanol industry group – said that there was no connection between biofuels and high food prices. He also said that Europe does not import any ethanol from Africa for fuel use, only for beverages and industrial purposes.

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