Image from flickr
As was widely expected, the U.S. and Brazil's biofuel programs came under heavy criticism at the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) food crisis meeting yesterday in Rome. Jacques Diouf, its head, reserved most of his reprobation for the U.S.'s billions of corn ethanol subsidies (roughly $12b in 2006), which he said were depriving developing countries of food, reports The Guardian's Julian Borger.He accused the U.S. of diverting close to 100 million tons of cereals from human consumption to "satisfy a thirst for fuel for vehicles." Officials from U.S., Canadian and European biofuel industries had written to Diouf prior to the summit to warn him not to lash out against biofuels -- advice he clearly (and rightly) chose to disregard. Ed Schafer, the U.S. agriculture secretary, tried to deflect blame from the ethanol subsidies, claiming biofuel production only accounted for 2 - 3% of the rise in food prices.
By comparison, the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) research estimates that it has accounted for 20 - 30% of the price increases over the last 2 years. For its part, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) believes that biofuels caused nearly 60% of the increase in the consumption of cereals and vegetable oils between 2005 and 2007.
Schafer also tried to peddle the canard that corn ethanol was an "efficient producer of energy," despite mountains of evidence to the contrary (see this post about the significant land-use concerns).
In a separate story, Reuters' Gerard Wynn reports that Bush chief climate negotiator Harlan Watson will tell a July meeting of the G8 nations that the U.S. would be unable to achieve "big" GHG emissions cuts by 2020. He is pushing for the adoption of a (much) more modest 50% cut below 1990 levels by 2050. EU nations have come out in support of a more stringent 25 - 40% reduction below 1990 levels by 2020.
Since when did the U.S. become a country of "can't do-ist" spirit? These two articles perfectly encapsulate two of the problems that have plagued our approach to climate change over the last 8 years: Delay any meaningful action on reducing emissions and, instead of adopting sound, far-reaching policies, take shortsighted, politically convenient half-steps.
Much of the blame for this can, of course, be laid at the feet of the Bush administration. Yet both parties are complicit in pushing some of the worst legislation on this front -- the grotesque farm bill and the bloated energy bill, for example -- and in obfuscating the rest (see: Lieberman-Warner bill; and for some excellent ongoing coverage of the debate, head over to Grist and Climate Progress). Hopefully the next president will succeed in pulling us out of our fossil fuel-induced stupor and in moving the U.S. towards taking the lead in the fight against global warming.
It may not be much, but we plan on doing our part at TreeHugger and Planet Green to move public sentiment in the right direction, and, with the recent launch of the network, are hoping to get a lot more adherents with programs like "Renovation Nation" and "Mean Green Machines." We'll keep our fingers crossed.
Via ::The Guardian: US biofuel subsidies under attack at food summit (news website)
::Biofuel Comparison Chart: The "Good," the Bad and the (Really Ugly)
::Invasive Species: Another Reason to Worry about Biofuels
::Is the Lieberman-Warner Climate Bill on its Last Legs?
::Senator Bond Slams Global Warming Bill