Urgent action on biofuels

ARCHIVE NEWS (September 2007). Please note: links may not be active.

Science watchdog, Econexus, has prepared a petition calling for a moratorium on all EU promotion of agrofuels.

In its supporting document, Econexus details the unresolved concerns surrounding the use of agrofuels as an alternative source of energy. In particular, the exploitation of southern developing lands whose local livelihoods, water supplies and environment are threatened by spreading soil damage and desertification, promoted by intensive agriculture and GM crops.

Econexus also points out the weaknesses of plans to replace 'first generation' biofuels from dedicated crops with 'second generation' ones using GM woody plants and GM microbes.

So far, the main initiatives put forward to 'ensure' that environmental benefits accrue from the production of biofuels have involved 'sustainability certification schemes'. A number of reasons are presented by Econexus as to why the present schemes, whether voluntary or mandatory, can't effectively address the problems:

First and foremost, the fact that agrofuel crop production has been shifted to foreign lands. Many developing countries do not have the infrastructure to implement safeguards, to monitor the effects, nor to implement accountability. The local communities affected by agrofuel crop production are not being considered nor consulted.

One report from the Netherlands pointed out the shaky practicalities of such schemes. “Some of the impacts of biomass production are difficult to assess on the individual company level, and only become apparent on the regional, national and sometimes even on the supranational level ... in particular the impacts caused by indirect changes in land use”

Finally, the development of agrofuels is proceeding far too quickly for certification procedures to keep pace.

Of particular concern is that the EU and US have been introducing incentives for agrofuels, including mandatory targets, publicly funded subsidies, and tax breaks. Billions of dollars have been invested in agrofuel plantations, refineries and the extensive associate infrastructure. The damage to the environment and the people is proceeding without any proof that it will actually supply our energy needs, nor that it can ever mitigate global warming, and is proceeding at breakneck speed. The risks of a 'wait and see' approach are far too high.

Econexus' petition does not include a moratorium on biofuels from true waste, such as vegetable-oil, manure or sewage. It does ask for a halt to any expansion of monoculture biofuel crops and trees to allow time for a comprehensive assessment of all consequences, including environmental and socio-economic implications. The EU must stop all incentives for agrofuels, stop all imports of agrofuels and stop all agro-energy monoculture.

If you have an executive role an any organisation, consider adding its name to the petition. This can be done by e-mail to And tell you friends about it.