Biofuels deepen poverty and accelerate climate change: Oxfam report

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 25 Jun 2008

The biofuel policies of developed countries like the US and the EU have dragged more than 30 million extra people into poverty according to a report released today by international aid agency Oxfam.

The report, ‘Another Inconvenient Truth’, finds that biofuel policies are not solving climate change or the fuel crisis but are instead contributing to food insecurity, hunger and inflation which hit poor people hardest.

Released today, the report calculates that developed country biofuel policies have dragged people into poverty by causing a 30 per cent increase in global food prices.

The report follows last week’s news that food and drink companies including Unilever, Nestle, Cadbury and Heineken asked the European Commission to review its policy that encourages biofuel production, stating that they believed it would help drive agricultural commodity prices to further record highs.

Unlike many other developed countries, Australia has not set mandatory targets for biofuel production or use.
Oxfam Australia’s biofuels and food crisis expert, Jeff Atkinson, said the report illustrated how catastrophic policies like mandatory targets had been and urged the Australian Government not to adopt them.

“Biofuel policies are actually helping to accelerate climate change and deepen poverty and hunger. Rich countries’ demands for more biofuels in their transport fuels are contributing to spiralling production and food inflation,” Mr Atkinson said.

Mandatory targets for biofuel use place a legal obligation on fuel companies to blend a certain volume or percentage of biofuels with the petrol and diesel they sell.

“The evidence about the damage of mandatory targets is overwhelming, and we strongly urge the Australian Government to ensure that these targets for biofuels are not adopted in Australia. Such targets would only serve to put pressure on agricultural land in developing countries,” Mr Atkinson said.

Mr Atkinson said the cultivation of biofuel products required mass land clearing that took over agricultural land and forced farming to expand into lands like forests and wetlands. This triggered the release of excessive and damaging carbon into the atmosphere, cancelling out the environmental benefits of biofuels.

He said in Indonesia, where peatland tropical rainforest was being cleared to make way for palm oil which is used in biodiesel, it would take approximately 420 years of biofuel production to pay back the carbon debt accrued from this destruction of the rainforest’s carbon stores.

Mr Atkinson said biofuels also would not address wealthy countries’ need for fuel security.

“Even if the entire world’s supply of grains and sugars were converted into ethanol tomorrow – in the process giving the world less to eat – we would only be able to replace 40 per cent of our petrol and diesel consumption,” Mr Atkinson said.

“Rich country governments should not use biofuels as an excuse to avoid urgent decisions about how to reduce their unfettered demand for petrol and diesel,” he said.

Download the report here

To arrange an interview or for further information, please contact Laurelle Keough, Oxfam Australia Media Liaison Coordinator – Advocacy & Campaigns, on 0409 960 100