Here’s yet more evidence to nail into the coffin of the biofuel revolution. Biofuels have gone from the ultimate “win-win solution” to a “bogeyman” that threatens to starve the poor and keep the cars of the rich running, according to a new report by Christian Aid.
Having reviewed all the evidence, the development charity has concluded that “biofuels are far from a silver bullet for cutting carbon emissions, and in, fact, offer only limited savings in certain circumstances.”
The large-scale production of biofuels complicates and worsens a number of social and environmental problems, argues Christian Aid, whilst exacerbating human rights.
But at the end of the day, some 2.4 billion people do not have secure supplies of fuel for heating or cooking, yet the rich is looking for land to fuel its vehicles. There can never be enough land to fulfil demand. And for that reason, they are a fundamentally flawed response, as the pressures that biofuels place on land use means there is a “fundamental limit” on any possible expansion of production.
Industrial land take by biofuels has led to the displacement of third world farmers. One area particularly hard hit by the biofuels revolution is Central America, where the boom in US maize ethanol has had a particularly adverse impact. The enormous growth in US domestic maize consumption means that that there is far less on the international market. Having far less of something means the price goes up: the price of yellow corn has increased 90 per cent in just under two years.
Guatemala – by far the biggest importer of US maize is particularly hard hit by the price rises. The country has seen rises in chronic malnutrition. According to UNICEF – some 49 per cent of Guatemalan children under five have stunted growth.
In the report, one by one the myths of biofuels production are de-bunked, even the primary purpose of cutting climate emissions. If the full life cycle of emissions is taken into account some biofuels may cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent – whereas others may actually increase it by 30 per cent.
The report quotes Robert Watson, former Chair of the IPCC saying that it would be “obviously insane if we had a policy to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of biofuels that is actually leading to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions from bifuels.” One such insane policy is clearing Indonesian peatland to produce buiofuels, which means the carbon debt would take 420 years to replace.
The report argues that talking about “good” or “bad” biofuels is oversimplifying the situation. “The problem is not with the crop or fuel – it is with policy framework around biofuel production and use.
Indeed, Christian Aid argues that, if biofuels are to have a use, it is towards “energy self-sufficiency, rural development and a shift towards decentralised, clean energy for the energy-poor in developing countries”.
The report’s author Eliot Whittington, said the biofuels approach had been “disastrous”. “Policymakers should urgently rethink their entire approach to biofuels, to ensure that only crops and fuels which will achieve their social and environmental goals receive government backing.”