Biofuels Have Pushed Thirty Million People Into Poverty: Oxfam

Rice Field in Vietnam

photo by Lorna via flickr

Oxfam has released a new report which claims that biofuel policies in rich countries have forced 30 million people into poverty, based on evidence that indicates that biofuels have contributed up to 30% in the global rise in food prices.

Agricultural Land Taken Over for Biofuels
The report, "Another Inconvenient Truth"* says that "The biofuels being grown today are not an effective answer to climate change. Instead, biofuels are taking over agricultural land and forcing farming to expand into lands that are important carbon sinks, like forests and wetlands."And points out that, "If the fuel value for a crop is more than its food value, then it will be sold for fuel instead...this is exactly what's happening ... Rich countries' biofuel policies [are] actually helping to accelerate climate change and deepen poverty and hunger. Rich countries demands for more biofuels in their transport fuels are causing spiraling food inflation."

This is nothing new to people who've been paying attention to the whole food versus fuel debate which has taken place over the past couple of months.

Demand Reduction
However, Oxfam does offer a viewpoint which I think states the an aspect of this situation uncommonly clearly: "Rich country governments should not use biofuels as an excuse to avoid urgent decisions about how to reduce their unfettered demand for petrol and diesel."

What report author Robert Bailey hits upon is what I think is a crucial but oft-neglected part of the alternative energy discussion: Demand reduction.

In addition to developing new renewable fuels we must look at ways at reducing demand for fuels in general: less energy-intense economies, higher efficiency transport systems, as well as lifestyle and design choices which enable this. Many of the resultant environmental and social issues associated with the "unfettered demand for petrol and diesel" Bailey mentions won't be solved simply by substituting a polluting fuel for a non-polluting one. I am sure many of my readers will disagree with me on this point.

Oxfam recommendations:
Rich countries should:
1) Introduce a freeze on implementing new biofuel mandates
2) Urgently revise existing biofuel mandates
3) Dismantle subsidies and tax exemptions for biofuels
4) Reduce import tariffs on biofuels.

Developing countries should:
1) Proceed with extreme caution, planning for the long-term, avoiding ambitious targets and analyzing the economic, environmental and social impacts of biofuels.

Investors should:
1) Ensure no biofuel project takes place without the free, prior and informed consent of local communities
2) Promote access to energy in remote areas.

Read the full "Another Inconvenient Truth" report to fuller picture of Oxfam's position.

:: Oxfam GB
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* Not to overly distract from the weight of this report, but the green community really ought to have a moratorium on titles which include the words "inconvenient truth". Despite any perceived value in making a mental connection with Al Gore's important film, it's gotten to be too much. We can be more creative than this. I suggest "Uncomfortable Truth" if you must.

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