Thursday, April 22, 2010

The EU defends bio-fuels policy

The anti-poverty head of the European Union refused to acknowledge that bio-fuels raised food prices to make millions more hungry. This claim was made despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

The EUs commissioner for development aid Andris Piebalgs issued a position paper published on April 21st. In it, Piebalgs defends the EU's policy of using food for energy. Piebalgs formerly served as the EUs Energy Commissioner.

From the IPS, writer David Cronin reveals more from the paper and the reaction to it.

"I can clearly state today that biofuel policy has done no damage in the developing world," Piebalgs told IPS. "The focus is right."

Holding the energy portfolio in the European Commission from 2004 until last year, Piebalgs was one of the most zealous defenders of an EU strategy that at least 10 percent of all journeys undertaken on the bloc's roads by 2020 should be powered by biofuels.

Since that goal was set in 2007, it has encountered stiff opposition from environmental campaigners and food policy analysts. The World Food Programme has held the greater use of biofuels at least partly responsible for a spike in the prices of basic groceries that has pushed the number of people who suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition beyond a billion. Food crops used for cars and trucks include wheat, maize, soy, sugar and palm oil.

Piebalgs' stance contrasts with the findings of several studies undertaken at the Commission's request. An environmental impact assessment on the EU's biofuels policy issued last month cast doubts on whether it will help slow down the pace of climate change. The assessment calculated that raising the proportion of biofuels used for road transport above 5 percent in the next decade would do more harm than good to the global environment as many forests would be sacrificed to create room for biofuel plantations.

The Commission has so far refused to make public a series of other documents relating to the biofuels target.

"Evidence is building that the EU's biofuels policy is leading to the destruction of forests and rural areas, as well as pushing up food prices," said Adrian Bebb from Friends of the Earth. "It is crystal clear that the EU's policy on biofuels is not sustainable and it is only a matter of time before the EU needs to change that policy. Quite clearly, though, some commissioners are still in denial."

Earlier this year ActionAid predicted that an additional 600 million people would join the ranks of the world's hungry by 2020 unless the EU scraps its biofuels target. Anne Catherine Claude, a campaigner with the organisation, said that Piebalgs is "probably afraid" of admitting the impact of biofuels because he does not wish to upset the large energy and agribusiness companies who have a vested interest in keeping the target. The Union's objective was originally set after EU officials consulted an advisory panel comprising representatives of such firms as Shell, Abengoa, Total, British Sugar, Nestlé and Volvo.

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