G20 ignores international organisations’ warnings on biofuels

Friday, November 4, 2011 - 11:25

With continued instability on the financial markets dominating the 2011 G20 leader’s summit, it should come as little surprise that other important issues have been swept aside.

One of these is the issue of biofuels and their impacts on global food security. With the number of people going hungry around the world standing at over one billion – or 1 in 7 of the world’s population – G20 leaders at a summit in November 2010 asked 10 respected international organisations to take a detailed look at what is causing high levels of volatility in global food prices.

The report – produced by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the OECDWorld BankIMF and World Food Programme, amongst others – was presented to G20 Agricultural Ministers at their meeting in June. But they couldn’t agree on what needs to be done, so it was supposed to be part of the discussions at the leader’s summit in Cannes this week.

However, according to our sources, a discussion on the report’s findings has been withdrawn from the agenda because of opposition from some of the major biofuels producers.

Among the report’s key findings was that the demand for food and feed crops for the production of biofuels is a significant factor in current increases in global food prices and volatility – and the situation will only get worse as biofuels use increases.

But the report goes further than this, including a concrete recommendation that G20 governments remove all provisions from current national policies that subsidise or mandate biofuels production or consumption.

This is proving to be quite the hot potato and it’s why G20 leaders can’t agree.

Brazil and the USA are leading producers of biofuels globally, exporting large amounts of the fuel to other major economies – and making a tidy profit in the process. At the same time, the EU has a set of targets in place that will see biofuels making up 9% of all transport fuel it uses by 2020.

This will involve a massive increase in the production and consumption of biofuels – a move that is pushing up global food prices, as the report rightly says, but is also leading to poor communities in developing countries being pushed off their land by multinational companies growing biofuels to meet this increase in global demand.

Last month, the 10 international organisations’ findings were added to by over 100 top scientists and economists who, in a letter to the European Commission, called for EU biofuels policies to be based on the ‘best available science’.

This clearly shows that in addition to the increases in global food prices and price volatility, because of flawed accounting, the EU's target for renewable energy in transport may fail to deliver genuine carbon savings.

This is what we’re concerned about. The high demand for biofuels in rich economies is causing massive rights violations in communities that we work with in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. All this for a fuel that the experts are saying could end up producing more carbon emissions than conventional petrol.

ActionAid wants G20 leaders to do what the 10 international organisations’ report is clearly saying should happen – get rid of biofuels targets and mandates.

These policies are endangering people’s ability to feed themselves and their families – something that they are already struggling to do in many parts of the world.

If the G20 is serious about advancing towards greater sustainability of global energy and food consumption, it can’t keep ignoring the evidence that shows the damage these policies are doing.

While respecting that G20 leaders need to address the ongoing financial crisis, they must also address the urgent issue of global hunger and stop their biofuels targets and mandates from causing global hunger.

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