EU urged to abandon biofuels targets
by Daniel Mason
The European Union has been urged to ditch its targets for biofuels – part of its wider effort to increase the use of renewable energy sources in the transport sector – because their impact on food prices is "plunging people into poverty".
Current EU law mandates that 10 per cent of energy for transport should come from renewable sources, including biofuels from food crops, by 2020. But Oxfam warned today that this "dangerous love affair" with biofuels was pushing up food prices, driving people off their land and worsening the hunger and malnutrition crisis in poor countries.
In a newly published report, The Hunger Grains, Oxfam said the EU's targets could push up some food prices by as much as 36 per cent – having a "severe impact on poor people who are already struggling to afford the foot they need to survive". To meet its current goals Europe could need a fifth of all the vegetable oil produced globally to meet its demand for fuel, according to the study.
Oxfam added that the land used to power European cars for one year could instead produce the wheat and maize required to feed 127 million people. It said the EU's mandates could cost every adult as much as €30 every year by the end of the decade and that in 2008 alone €3bn was spent on tax exemptions and incentives for biofuel production in Europe.
"Europe has helped spark a gold rush for biofuels that is forcing poor families from their homes, while big business piles up the profits," said Natalia Alonso, head of Oxfam's EU office. "Biofuels were meant to make transport greener, but European governments are pouring consumers' money down the drain, while depriving millions of people of food, land and water.
She added: "Unless EU governments scrap their biofuel mandates, which will double biofuel consumption over the next few years, many more people will be plunged into poverty. Europe's biofuels policies are making climate change worse, not better, and poor people are paying the highest price."
Meanwhile a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation reported that biodiesel made from non-waste vegetable oil "is likely to have a worse carbon footprint than fossil diesel". It said there was "no environmental basis for the EU to continue to support the supply of biodiesel" because of the indirect land use changes that result from its production.
European energy ministers were expected to discuss the issue at a meeting in Cyprus today. Documents leaked last week suggested that the European Commission was looking at revising its biofuels targets after 2020 to take into account the concerns about their impact on land use and food prices, potentially by limiting the amount of biofuels made from food crops.