Millions of people could starve if member states deliver on the EU’s target of sourcing 10% of its transport fuel from biofuels as a way of tackling climate change, argues a new report from ActionAid, an NGO.
"The huge expansion in industrial biofuels use must be stopped," said ActionAid's biofuels expert Tim Rice, calling for EU governments to refrain from increasing their use further while drafting national action plans for renewable energy for the next 10 years.
Currently made from maize, wheat, sugar cane and oil seeds such as palm oil, soy and rapeseed, industrial biofuels compete with crops grown for food, "driving food prices higher and affecting what and how much people eat in developing countries," notes the ActionAid report on the impact of industrial biofuels on global hunger.
"For every 1% rise in the price of food, 16 million more poor people are made hungry," it estimates.
According to ActionAid's evaluation, EU biofuel consumption will "jump nearly fourfold" by 2020, and two thirds of these biofuels will be imported mainly from the developing world, diverting food away from millions more people who need it most.
Industrial biofuels are also having "disastrous local impacts" on land rights in many of the communities where they are grown, notes the report.
"The scale of the current land grab is astonishing," ActionAid argues. The survey shows that in five African countries, areas the size of Belgium (1.1 million hectares) have been given over to industrial biofuel cultivation, all of which is destined for export.
According to the survey, EU companies have acquired or requested areas of land greater than the size of Denmark (over five million hectares) for cultivating industrial biofuels in developing countries.
Industrial biofuels: Climate change 'red herring'
While EU legislation establishes sustainability criteria for biofuels (currently in the making) and obliges the bloc to ensure that biofuels offer at least 35% carbon emission savings compared to fossil fuels, 60% as of 2018, ActionAid notes that "most industrial biofuels do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions when compared to the fossil fuels they are replacing" (EurActiv 05/12/08, 03/02/10).
Industrial biofuels are "a red herring in the fight against climate change," it continues, stressing their contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Land-use change from converting forests and grasslands to grow biofuel crops is an important cause of GHG emissions and using fertilisers to grow them releases nitrous oxide, which the NGO stresses is 300 times more powerful as a GHG than CO2.