Agrofuels: It’s not worth it

posted by Becky Ran

This post was written by our fabulous French communications intern, Virginie Corominas.

In anticipation of a European directive that would mandate a 10 percent minimum of agrofuels in all fuel by 2020, three French NGOs are starting a campaign called Agrofuels, ca nourrit pas son monde. (The title of the campaign is a play on a French saying that translates roughly as agrofuels – it’s not worth it.)

The campaign is taking off as the French government is preparing to meet a similar 10 percent benchmark as early as 2015. Because the French quotas are nothing compared to the production capacity of Europe, the new campaign is targeting the European Union process. As such, the new campaign allows Europeans space not only to address the failing environmental and social impact of biofuels, but also to emphasize the role of biofuels in the global food crisis. A petition and a lot of information is available on their website (in French).

There is no doubt: growing fuel instead of food aggravates world hunger. No matter if the agrofuel is domestic or imported, its production still increases global market competition for grains, oils or other biomass. When European cooking oil is used for fuel, cooks throughout the continent fill their cooking pans with imported oil from the Global South (just as big food-processing corporations do). Right now, that demand gap is being filled by palm oil, mainly from Indonesia or Brazil but increasingly from Africa, a market more favorable for European companies. Cameroon, for example, is being hit very hard by deforestation because of new palm plantations.

The European Union is attempting to protect itself from the agrofuel controversy by promising to purchase only agrofuels that have been certified sustainable and responsible. But this is where Europe, like the United States, is hypocritical. The certification process does not fix the problem of competition for limited and increasingly expensive land. It does not consider water issues (limitation and pollution), displacement, and the need for food sovereignty in the South.

If rich countries do not plan for a reduction of their total consumption of fuels, poor countries will still suffer from deforestation, hunger and migration. And considering the poor energy record of biofuels, the renewable fuels target mandated by Bush (15 percent by 2017) and the European Union (15 percent by 2020), even certified, will not help them accomplish their green house gas emissions reductions targets.

However, the technological dream lives on. Corporate and political supporters of alternative energy “solutions” like “clean coal” and second generation biofuels will continue to push them¬–because they make long-term and deep change seem unnecessary. Well, then Europeans will have to keep reminding their governments of the reality politicians might not be in touch with. Meanwhile Americans, with the incoming new president and the prospective of a restored democracy might have to regain confidence in their own political power.

The three NGOs involved include Les Amis de la Terre, (Friends of the Earth), Le CCFD-Terre solidaire (Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development, Solidarity Earth) and Oxfam France – Agir ici (Act Here). They work in partnership with few Indonesian, Brazilian and Cameroonian NGOs.

Watch a video of the campaign below.