Up to 100 million more people could go hungry if Europe commits itself to a huge increase in biofuels consumption in order to meet new European Union legislation, ActionAid says in a new report titled Meals per gallon: the impact of industrial biofuels on people and global hunger. The legislation states that 10% of transport fuels must come from renewable sources by 2020. EU member states will fill almost all of their renewables targets by using industrial biofuels – fuels made on an industrial scale from agricultural crops, including important staple foods. The vast majority of industrial biofuels are made from maize, wheat, sugar cane and vegetable oils such as palm oil, soy and rapeseed.
In its report ActionAid calculates that by 2020 biofuel consumption in the EU will jump nearly four-fold and that two thirds will be imported, mainly from the developing world. As well as diverting food away from the people who need it most, this will push up prices. It is estimated that for every 1% rise in the price of food, 16 million more poor people become hungry. ActionAid also says that most industrial biofuels do not save greenhouse gas emissions when compared to the fossil fuels they are replacing. The increasing use of biofuels is resulting in massive land use change, often in carbon rich habitats such as tropical rainforests. Using extra fertiliser to grow biofuels releases nitrous oxide, one of the most powerful greenhouse gasses.
Report author Tim Rice said: “Miracles do not grow on trees, or from any other plants for that matter. Using crops to fuel cars increases hunger while failing to help stop climate change. The huge expansion in industrial biofuels use must be stopped. To meet the EU deadline, the UK government is now writing its national action plan which will set out its strategy for renewable energy for the next ten years. This plan must not commit the UK to any further increase in industrial biofuels.”
To meet the EU 10% target solely from biofuels, the total land area directly required to grow industrial biofuels in poor countries could reach 17.5m hectares, well over half the size of Italy. ActionAid has already found that increased biofuel use is having disastrous impacts on the developing world. Multinationals are acquiring land on a colossal scale. Across developing countries as a whole, EU companies have already acquired or are in negotiations for at least 5m hectares. This has led to displacement of people, lack of consultation and compensation, broken promises about wages and job opportunities, and food scarcity.
ActionAid is calling on EU member states to ensure they do not lock in industrial biofuels into their 2010 national action plans. The charity also says that transport and energy consumption must be reduced, targets and financial incentives for industrial biofuels ended and more support given to small-scale sustainable biofuels in the EU and elsewhere.