posted by Dustin Mulvaney
Biofuels are presented in rich countries as a solution to two crises: the climate crisis and the oil crisis. But they may not be a solution to either, and instead are contributing to a third: the current food crisis. Meanwhile the danger is that they allow rich-country governments to avoid difficult but urgent decisions about how to reduce consumption of oil, while offering new avenues to continue expensive support to agriculture at the cost of taxpayers. In the meantime, the most serious costs of these policies – deepening poverty and hunger, environmental degradation, and accelerating climate change – are being 'dumped' on developing countries.
Biofuel farming accused of driving up food prices
Updated Wed Jun 25, 2008 1:26pm AEST
Oxfam says the competition between fuel and food is dragging more than 30 million people into poverty.
Oxfam says the competition between fuel and food is dragging more than 30 million people into poverty. (user submitted: Greg O'Brien)
Biofuels were supposed to make up a big part of the answer to two of the great challenges of our age: climate change and energy security.
To many governments grappling with soaring oil prices and growing fears about climate change, tailoring incentives to engineer a switch from oil-based fuels to those made from food seemed like a good idea.
But increasingly, there are fears that biofuels may be creating as many problems as they solve.
Oxfam says the renewable fuels are not as climate-friendly as first thought.
The international aid agency blames the biofuel policies of developed countries for a 30 per cent spike in food prices which are dragging more than 30 million extra people into poverty.
"As more science has come to light and as people have looked at this issue more carefully, I think our conclusion is that changing to biofuels in transport in countries like Australia, Europe, America is not good for the planet," says Oxfam Australia's Jeff Atkinson.
In its global report, Another Inconvenient Truth, Oxfam argues the benefits to the climate of using biofuels have been overstated.
It says many farmers have cleared further into forests and wetlands to accommodate the crops, and others have moved out of food production to make room for biofuel feedstock.
"Of course changing from petrol to biofuels in one's car is going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to look at the whole picture you have to look at how these biofuels are produced and where they are produced and many of them are produced in developing countries of course," Mr Atkinson said.
"But what's happening is that there is competition between fuel and food."
"Take the corn crop in the US for example, which would normally be grown for food, a lot of that is now being grown for fuel instead and factors like this of course are driving up food prices."
That rise is as much as 30 per cent, Oxfam says.
But Bob Gordon from Renewable Fuels Australia rejects the notion that biofuels are entirely responsible for the global food shortage.
"It is oil that is the primary driver and you'll find that the United States, you'll find that the European governments and everybody accepts that," Mr Gordon says.
"The issue with biofuels is that we have to play it carefully if we're going to use biofuels as a fuel alternative, and only one fuel alternative."
He says the current crop of biofuels is just the first step in the transition from an oil-based economy.
"Biofuels do require land use. We need to be careful about that," Mr Gordon says.
-Adapted from a report by Ashley Hall for AM