High Level Panel: “Promoting Biofuels, Creating Scarcity?” on 17 October.

CONCORD co-organised a High Level Panel Event on the impact of EU Biofuels policy on developing countries with ActionAid, Oxfam, CIDSE, CYINDEP and EuropAfrica at this years European Development Days on 17th October in Brussels.

What’s the deal with biofuels?

The European Commission admitted this September that it needed to rethink its biofuel policy, a crucial element of its 2020 renewable energy targets. This follows a weight of calls from NGOs, business leaders and researchers recently to shelve biofuels targets altogether. Plant based biofuels are becoming an increasingly controversial issue, given their potential impact on global food prices and on land rights for people in developing countries.

Event overview

The panel gathered experts from EU institutions, NGOs, and the private sector to confront their views while questions were posed from the audience to the speakers and experts throughout the event.

Laura Shields, the moderator, provided a neat summary at the end of the event. There was genuine agreement on the panel that the big challenge is the question of reconciling the world’s need for clean cheap accessible energy with the need to feed the world, in particular, countries where poverty and hunger have already become an issue. This could be described as a complex problem, one with no ready-made solutions.

There was some disagreement over the link and the relationship between high food prices and biofuels and their impact with Mr. Vierhout of ePure expressing the belief that no such link existed. There was however, some agreement between surprising quarters as both Mr. Vierhout of ePURE and Mr. Bloomer of Oxfam both agreed that there was a distribution problem of food rather than a food problem in and of itself. More generally however, there was an agreement that a move away from using food crops for fuels, not eliminating them completely but a movement away from these first generation biofuels to second and third generation biofuels, will address a number of these issues but this won’t necessarily end the issue of land grabs, although it may go some way towards helping.

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On the solutions and the policy coherence development side, we heard far more from what the European Commission will do at the development level, attaching conditions on imports from the private sector in different countries who want to sell their exports into Europe, while the NGOs argued in favour for more traceability and more community consent schemes so that small farmers in developing countries are brought into the decision making process at a much earlier stage. It was expressed that more pressure was needed on developing countries to respond and take some responsibility for the issue of managing land, food security and smallholder farmers. However, there is an understanding that the tone does come from the policy framework that the EU creates, which is why it is so important to have alignment and coherence between the all the different priorities of the European Union.

Participants:

– Ms Stina Soewarta, Cabinet DG DEVCO, European Commission;

– Ms Jasmin Battista, Cabinet DG ENER, European Commission;

– Mr Rob Vierhout, Secretary General , ePURE (European Renewable Ethanol Association);

– Ms Rahmwati Retno, Program Director, Sawit Watch (Indonesia);

– Mr Phil Bloomer, Director of Campaigns and Policy, Oxfam Great Britain;

– Ms Belinda Calaguas, Head of Campaigns and Advocacy, ActionAid International;

– Mr Roman Herre, Policy Coordinator on EU Agrofuels policy, FIAN Germany

Front row speaker:

-Mr Johan Kuylenstierna, Executive Director, Stockholm Environment Institute

Moderator:

-Ms Laura Shields, Journalist