Developed Countries' Demand for Biofuels has Been 'Disastrous'

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The Guardian/UK

Developed Countries' Demand for Biofuels has Been 'Disastrous'

Production of crops such as maize and palm oil fuelling poverty and environmental damage in poor countries, says Christian Aid

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A worker harvests oil-palm fruit in Malaysia. (Photograph: EPA/Barbara Walton)

The production of biofuels is fuelling poverty, human rights abuses and damage to the environment, Christian Aid warned today.

The
charity said huge subsidies and targets in developed countries for
boosting the production of fuels from plants such as maize and palm oil
are exacerbating environmental and social problems in poor nations.

And
rather than being a "silver bullet" to tackle climate change, the
carbon emissions of some of the fuels are higher than fossil fuels
because of deforestation driven by the need for land for them to grow.

According
to a report, Growing Pains, by Christian Aid, industrial scale
production of biofuels is worsening problems such as food price hikes
in central America, forced displacement of small farmers for
plantations and pollution of local water sources.

But with 2.4
billion people worldwide currently without secure sources of energy for
cooking and heating, Christian Aid believes the renewable fuels do have
the potential to help the poor.

The charity highlights schemes
such as the growing of jatropha in Mali, where the plant is raised
between food crops and the oil from the seeds is used to run village
generators which can power appliances such as stoves and lights.

The
report argues that talking about "good" or "bad" biofuels is
oversimplifying the situation, and the problem is not with the crop or
fuel - but the policies surrounding them.

Developed countries
have poured subsidies into biofuel production - for example in the US
where between 9.2 billion dollars and 11 billion dollars went to
supporting maize-based ethanol in 2008 - when there are cheaper and
more effective ways to cut emissions from transport, the report said.

The
charity said biofuels production needed a "new vision" - a switch from
supplying significant quantities of transport fuel for industrial
markets to helping poor people have access to clean energy.

The
report's author Eliot Whittington, climate advocacy specialist for
Christian Aid, said: "Vast sums of European and American taxpayers'
money are being used to prop up industries which are fuelling hunger,
severe human rights abuses and environmental destruction - and failing
to deliver the benefits claimed for them."

He said the current approach to biofuels had been "disastrous".

He
added: "Christian Aid believes that the best approach to biofuels is to
grow them on a small scale and process them locally to provide energy
for people in the surrounding countryside. This can also increase rural
people's incomes and has the potential to actually increase soil
fertility and moisture retention, without compromising people's food
security."

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