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Agrofuels and Bioenergy

With concerns over energy security and global warming mounting, governments and industries have begun a headlong plunge towards the development of alternative energy sources. These include ethanol from biomass (sugarcane and starch) and agrodiesel from vegetable oil. More recently,  wood-based bioenergy is being promoted as a ‘green’ source of energy.

Unfortunately,  agrofuels (or biofuels as they are euphemistically called) and bioenergy are not the panacea that we might have hoped for. Instead, the increasing demand for these types of energy is rapidly becoming one of the main causes of deforestation, as it triggers the expansion of monocultures;  crops like oilpalm, soy and sugar cane, and trees.

Effects

Agrofuel expansion is one of the main factors behind the current boom in agricultural commodity prices, affecting consumers all over the world, and contributing to malnutrition and starvation amongst the poor. Rising prices are also triggering a massive take-over of the lands of Indigenous Peoples and local communities by corporate owned oilpalm, soy, sugar cane and jatropha plantations, leading to forced displacements in many parts of the world. Forests and other pristine ecosystems are also being rapidly converted to increase the space available for monocultures. In addition, so-called “second generation biofuels”, made from wood and cellulose-based feedstocks, are creating a huge new demand for wood that is driving the dangerous and unproven development of genetically engineered trees. The growing emphasis on wood and other tree plantation biomass as a source for agrofuels will also inevitably accelerate grassland destruction, deforestation and the replacement of native forests with monoculture plantations to meet this rising demand.

The effects on climate change

The effects on climate are likely to be dramatic. Forests play a major role in regulating climate  and is one of the most important and cost-effective ways of mitigating climate change. The current agrofuels boom is likely to have exactly the opposite effect. Any increase in deforestation caused by agrofuel production will offset any gains from burning ethanol or biodiesel.

Moratorium

GFC is calling for an immediate moratorium on all forms of support for the expansion of agrofuels and large-scale bioenergy production. GFC also opposes the European Union’s proposed mandatory 10% target for biofuel use in transport by 2020. Although some of the negative implications of biofuels production have been recognised, with the EU declaring that the biofuels used must be sustainably produced, other significant impacts have been overlooked. These include the impact that agrofuel expansion is having on rising commodity prices, and the subsequences that these changing prices have in terms of increased deforestation and hunger. Suggested criteria and certification systems that are supposed to guarantee “sustainability” are unable to address this concern and are therefore a false illusion.

For the publications on Agrofuels and bioenergy go to Resources.