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EC report on social impacts of biofuels is a whitewash 1

While welcoming the European Commission’s ambitions on climate and energy presented [yesterday] in a Green Paper, the EC has covered up the negative social impacts of Europe’s biofuel policies by severely underestimating the amount of biofuels-related land grab in Africa and the impacts on global food prices in an EC report also out [yesterday], claims international anti-poverty agency ActionAid.

According to ActionAid’s data, six million hectares of land – an area about three times the size of Wales – are already under the control of European companies. The land has been taken over to grow biofuels to meet the demands of the mainly European market, fuelled by targets set by the EU. Meanwhile, the EC reported only 50,000 – 160,000 hectares of land investment for biofuels as ‘concerning’ in terms of social impacts

Marco De Ponte, Secretary-General, ActionAid Italy, said:  “The EC’s report on the social impacts of its biofuels policy is a whitewash. By severely under-reporting the amount of land taken over for biofuel production in Africa and the effects on global food prices, the Commission is showing its lack of concern for the plight of nearly one billion people that go to bed hungry every night.”

The contribution of biofuels policies on rising food prices has been so damaging that ten influential global bodies, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation, called for the abolition of biofuel policies in 2011. Latest forecasts by, for example, the European Union’s own Joint Research Centre as well as independent research institutes show that by 2020, EU biofuel targets could push up the agricultural price of vegetable oils by 36 per cent, maize by 22 per cent, wheat by 13 per cent and oilseeds by 20 per cent, hitting the world’s most vulnerable the hardest. Yet the EC only reports food price increases of between 1-4% depending on crop, thus choosing to ignore the severe food price effects of its misguided biofuels policies.

When the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) was drafted in 2009, the social impacts of biofuels expansion were already public knowledge. However the Directive did not attempt to deal with these problems. Today’s report was a chance for the EC to acknowledge the negative impacts of its policies and pledge to revise its Directive to address them. But by acutely underestimating the real extent of the amount of land taken over for biofuels in Africa  as well as global food price rises resulting from European biofuels consumption, the EC has decided to hide the scale of the problem.

ActionAid data reveal that UK companies are the biggest investors in biofuels in sub-Saharan Africa with 30 projects, followed by Italy with 18 and Germany with eight. The total number of European biofuel projects (including Norway and Switzerland) is 98. The average size of a single land deal is 68,000 hectares – larger than the UK’s New Forest.

With an EC green paper also out today looking ahead to post-2020 energy and climate policy, ActionAid urges the Commission to get its current data on the impacts of biofuels accurate before it starts planning for the future of biofuels and bioenergy.

Dahlbeck added: “Europe should take immediate action to stop its energy plans from fuelling hunger.  If the EC had used accurate data to compile today’s social impacts report, its conclusions would have been indisputable: that it must scrap its ill-conceived food for fuels policy and address this major cause of hunger and land grabs.

“The EU has a key opportunity this year to get it right by using current negotiations on Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) to introduce binding ILUC factors that will ensure correct carbon accounting, with a view to eliminating once and for all its use of food for fuel.”

Notes to editors:

1. ActionAid’s “Adding Fuel to the Flame” is a detailed briefing on the social impacts of EU’s biofuel policies and provides new figures for the extent to which European investors are acquiring land in Africa for biofuel production.  It  was written in advance of the EC’s report on the social impacts of biofuels
2.  ActionAid is calling for all land-based – not just food-based – biofuels to be phased out by 2020 as they play a significant role in global hunger, drive up world food prices and create greenhouse gas emissions.
3.  ActionAid’s 6 million hectares figure refers to land taken over by European companies specifically to produce biofuels, in the period from 2009 to 2012.   While not all six million hectares subject to biofuels investments will have yet had negative social impacts, ActionAid has already been able to document landgrabs much larger than the figure cited by the EC, and the real figure is likely to be much higher than the EC’s estimate
4.  Key Stats:
*   The EU’s current biofuel use would produce enough food to feed 185 million people every year
*   By 2020, EU biofuel targets could push up the price of vegetable oils by up to 36%, maize and wheat by 22% and 13% respectively and oilseeds by up to 20%
*   If every country in the world used 10% biofuels in its transport fuels by 2020, this would require more than one quarter – 26% – of the world’s crops to be turned into fuel

5. Case study – how the rush for biofuels has devastated communities:

Media enquiries:
Ufficio Stampa ActionAid Italy
Tel. +39 06 45200525
Mob. +39 393 9073595

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  1. Anders Anderson says:

    Africa has more than 400 million ha idle land (World bank 2012) biofuels do NOT raise food prices (EC 2013) – though higher foode prices are necessary in order to erradicate poverty – as the majority of poor people are dependent on agriculture. Biofuels offer a cashcrop and development for Africa. What is your problem?

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