Europe’s plans to increase the use of biofuels as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector could prove disastrous for some of the world’s poorest people, according to Oxfam International.
The international aid agency warns that the European Commission’s target of a 10% biofuel composition in member states’ transport fuels by 2020 has set off a supply scramble in the South that poses a serious threat to vulnerable people at risk from land-grabbing, exploitation, and deteriorating food security.
In the scramble to supply the EU and the rest of the world with biofuels, poor people are getting trampled. The EU proposals as they stand will exacerbate the problem. It is unacceptable that poor people in developing countries should bear the cost of questionable attempts to cut emissions in Europe.—Robert Bailey, Oxfam
Biofuels may offer the potential to reduce poverty by increasing jobs and markets for small farmers, and by providing cheap renewable energy for local use, but the huge plantations emerging to supply the EU pose more threats than opportunities for poor people. The problem will only get worse as the scramble to supply intensifies unless the EU introduces safeguards to protect land rights, livelihoods, workers rights and food security, according to Oxfam.
EU member states agreed that the ten per cent target must be reached sustainably, but Oxfam warns that the current proposals contain no standards on the social or human impact.
The EU set its biofuel target without checking the impact on people and the environment. The EU must include safeguards to ensure that the rights and livelihoods of people in producing countries are protected. Without these, the ten per cent target should be scrapped and the EU should go back to the drawing board. Let’s be clear, biofuels are not a panacea—even if the EU is able to reach the ten per cent target sustainably, and Oxfam doubts that it can, it will only shave a few per cent of emissions off a continually growing total.—Robert Bailey
Published reports cited by the agency show that as much as 5.6 million square kilometers of land—an area more than ten times the size of France—could be in production of biofuels within 20 years in India, Brazil, Southern Africa and Indonesia alone. The UN estimates that 60 million people worldwide face clearance from their land to make way for biofuel plantations. Many end up in slums in search of work, others on the very plantations that have displaced them with poor pay, squalid conditions and no worker rights. Women workers are routinely discriminated against and often paid less then men.
In Indonesia almost a third of palm oil is produced by smallholders most of whom lost their land to advancing plantations and were ‘rewarded’ with a two hectare plot. These smallholders are bonded to the palm oil companies which provide them with credit and are required to sell to them—which means they do not get the best price for their oil.
Biofuels need not spell disaster for poor people in the South—they should instead offer new market and livelihood opportunities. But the agro-industrial model that is emerging to supply the EU target poses little in the way of opportunities and much in the way of threats. Without the right policies in place among companies, producer governments, and importing governments, the kinds of negative social impacts outlined above will only get worse as the scramble to supply intensifies.—Biofuelling Poverty
Oxfam says that ensuring sustainability must come before achieving the 10% target, which should be flexible. The agency calls for a formalized process, based on annual impact assessments and reviews of food security, to be introduced so that the target can be revised if it is not being achieved sustainably.
Oxfam also charges the EU with developing social standards to apply to all biofuels irrespective of their origin.
Oxfam Briefing Note – Biofuelling Poverty: Why the EU renewable fuel target may be disastrous for poor people