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Frustrating Times in the Fight against Biofuel Burning and Deforestation

By Missi Davis for the Global Forest Coalition

Forests cover nearly a third of the land on Earth, producing oxygen supporting a vast diversity of wildlife. Deforestation is responsible for around 15% of carbon emissions. Despite this, the planet loses 46-58 million square miles of forest every year. The global fight against deforestation continues to struggle against the rampant violation of the world’s forests. The fight against biofuel pollution has suffered a number of setbacks recently, unfortunately, and recent events expose how international bodies are failing to take an adequate lead on this.

On December 12, EU energy ministers failed to reach a deal to curb the use of transport fuels which come from food crops. The EU had suggested a somewhat low 5% cap, which the European Parliament advocated rising slightly with its 6% suggestion. Although Lithuania tabled a 7% cap on their use, this was opposed by an number of countries- including Poland, which complained that the suggested cap was too low and Belgium and Denmark, which protested that it was in fact too high. Unsurprisingly, people from the biofuels sector championed a higher cap, arguing that they had invested in the sector based on an assumption that biofuels will be responsible with at least a tenth of fuel provisions. They have protested that any cap below 10% would ultimately lead to layoffs in the biofuels sector.

Biofuel production is not the only worrying form of fuel-burning. Biomass burning is also causing untold damage to the Earth and forests in particular. On October 17 the The Global Forest Coalition published a report on the impact of biomass, especially in Europe and North America, to coincide with “National Bioenergy Day”. The report reveals how biomass burning is resulting in “green land grabs”, deforestation and greater levels of pollution in the southern USA and British Columbia due to the development of dedicated biomass centres and the transformation of coal plants to biomass in the EU.

REDD+’s shortcomings

It is widely recognized within the realm of green studies that international supply chains are the most important driver of deforestation. Despite the fact that this is received knowledge in many quarters, decision makers at the Warsaw Climate Change Conference in Poland seemed to neglect this fundamental truth when they decided to adopt the somewhat hole-ridden Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and enhance forest carbon stocks (REDD+) initiative. REDD+ is a package of policies, which will more likely than not decide the direction of international action on deforestation. On November 12th, the Global Forest Coalition attempted to voice its disapproval of REDD+’s content by making an intervention during the negotiations, which were happening in Warsaw. In that intervention, The Global Forest Coalition branded the text adopted by the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as “without doubt the weakest text any international forest-related body has ever adopted on this issue”.

“The REDD+ drivers text does not include any reference to the broadly recognized fact that the most important drivers of forest loss are linked to international commodity chains, and that these drivers will per definition lead to transboundary leakage of emissions if actions to address them are implemented at the national supply-side level only,” the statement further said.

The Global Forest Coalition delivers its verdict on REDD+

The intervention is not the only time that The Global Forest Coalition has held REDD+ to account. The Coalition published a report at the 19th UN Climate Conference in November highlighting the shortcomings of the REDD+. In particular the report argues that REDD+ does not get to the heart of what factors actually cause deforestation and then goes even further by warning that the policies that REDD+ recommends could actually turn out to be counter-productive and further aggravate deforestation.

The report, “REDD+ and the Underlying Causes of Deforestation and forest Degradation” was based on five case studies compiled by NGOs in South America (Brazil and Colombia), Asia (India) and Africa (Uganda and Tanzania). It claims that REDD+ neglects the biggest causes of forest loss, which are related to  international commodity chains- for example, wood, meat and bioenergy. The Global Forest Coalition advocates a package of policies instead of REDD+. These are mainly non-market based remedies against forest loss, for example ensuring the legal recognition of areas for conservation.


11 Feb, 2014
Posted in News, Forests and Climate Change, Trade and other underlying causes of forest loss