Much more than food will be at stake at next Thursday’s vote in the EU parliament for a resolution on food prices. Food shortages in the Third World are increasingly linked with the EU’s biofuel crops, that’s why.
Whether or not that link is justified is for the time being hard to establish. What is certain is that food prices in the Third World are rising and that anything to stop this obviously is of massive importance. Cultivation of crops that are competing with food provisions was “understandable at a time when food prices were lower but not any more,” Jeffrey Sachs recently was heard saying. Sachs, a special adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, recommended that both the EU and the US rethink their biofuel policies. He’s joined by many other high profile people and organizations. Even the European Environment Agency, an official advisory body to the European Commission, has called for a suspension of the 10% biofuels target.
A leaked copy of a draft with amendments to the EU’s renewable energy directive as drawn up by Claude Turmes, the main rapporteur on the issue, seems to indicate that EU lawmakers will be offered a proposal to slash their previously proposed 10% target of biofuels in all road transport by 2020. Turmes more or less confirmed this in a recent interview with a Brussels news agency. “I am very cautious on this 10% target. I think we are rushing into something which is not well settled”, he told EurActiv.
Asked whether he expects a consensus among MEPs to reject this target, Turmes said he wasn’t sure but that Third World farmer protection did feature on the agenda of many policy makers. “I have to see where it goes. We will define categories for biomass use. For example using organic waste from household and industry, using residues from the wood and paper industries as well as agriculture. We also have a concept of degraded land, which is outside the arable land that can be used, and we promote algae, so non-food/non-feed competing biofuels.”
Environmentalists sounded the alarmbell a few years ago warning that biofuels could be worse than fossil fuels. Friends of the Earth’s spokesman Adrian Bebb, told Time recently that biofuels “can damage the climate and wreck rainforests. The public is being conned if it thinks they are a green solution.” For the time being it’s unclear if the alternative to removing the 10% is doing nothing, which would be very unattractive too.
Meanwhile, British farmers have already voiced discontent over the possible decision by the EU to cancel the 10% target. The Brits claim they have found a way to produce biofuels that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 64%. What’s more, their crops are grown by farmers who produce as much high protein animal feed as bioethanol and biodiesel.
A spokesman for the National Farmers Union in Britain said that if the EU ended up “Removing the 10% target means the EU would hold no sway over the sustainability standards of the fast-developing international market in biofuels and bioenergy, or any sustainability criteria for other agricultural commodities which may follow.” That’s an important consideration too.
The EU aims to have adopted the directive by the first half of 2009 and member countries are expected to present National Action Plans (NAPs) on renewables in March 2010.