The Independent View: Controversy surrounding biofuels continues to mount

Josie Cohen is Campaigns Officer at ActionAid UK and writes about their biofuels campaign:

The controversy surrounding biofuels has been hotting up over the last few weeks, reaching its peak when a comment from a top official within the European Commission was leaked.

Picked up originally by Reuters, the senior official warned that taking full account of the carbon footprint of biofuels would ‘kill’ an EU industry with revenues of approximately $5 billion per year. You would have thought that this revelation would be enough for the EU to put the brakes on the current expansion of biofuel production which, after all, is driven by a desire to lower greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector. When you add this warning to the ever-mounting scientific evidence on the significant emissions from biofuel production given off from land use change and by nitrogen fertilisers then you really start to wonder why policy makers are still pushing ahead with plans that seemed like a really good idea a few years ago but now look like a disaster waiting to happen.

But, as well as not being a solution to climate change – the very problem they were designed to combat – there is another problem with biofuels and this is the reason that ActionAid have recently launched their anti-biofuels campaign. Biofuels cause hunger. They do this by driving up food prices, the real cost of which can be seen in the developing world where many of the poorest households spend up to 80% of their income on food. As a result of this, even a 1% increase in the price of food can destroy a family’s ability to feed themselves.

As well as pushing up food prices, the expansion of industrial biofuels driven by global government targets, subsidies and incentives, is also encouraging biofuel companies to grab land all over the developing world. Local communities are losing the land that they have farmed for generations and that they rely upon for subsistence farming. Wild promises are being made as to expected yields and employment opportunities, but they are all too often broken leaving people with no land, no compensation and therefore no ability to claim their right to food. And all this in a world where 1 billion people already go hungry.

So why have ActionAid chosen this moment to launch their campaign? Well, the UK Government must submit their National Action Plan to the EU in June outlining how it plans to reduce our transport emissions by 10% by 2020. At the moment it looks like they will opt for meeting this target by increasing the amount of biofuels in our petrol and diesel from the current 2.5% to just over 10%. And who could blame them? Biofuels are by far the easiest way to meet this target, much simpler than investing in public transport, increasing the fuel efficiency of car engines, or any of a number of other real solutions. Just one problem: biofuels do not lower greenhouse gas emissions and they could push another 600 million more people into hunger by 2020.

Help the Government to make the right decision by visiting and emailing the Department for Transport to ask them not to lock us into an increased biofuel target.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.


  • As Mark sort of points out, the food v fuel issue on biofuels only really applies to first generation biofuels. The second generation ones are much better.

  • Well done to Mark and Rankersbo for bringing in a little bit of rational balance to the debate. It does developing communities a disservice that their case is put in such an unnuanced, emotive and over-simplistic way. We need rational and analytical debate not loud and lairy posturing.

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