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BIOFUELS AND CLIMATE CHANGE: A CURE THAT MAKES THE DISEASE WORSE

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NEW DELHI, Feb 5 2008 (IPS) - False solutions to the climate crisis, like biofuels, will actually aggravate the problem while exacerbating inequality, hunger, and poverty, writes Vandana Shiva, author and international campaigner for women and the environment. In this article Shiva writes that biofuels contribute to the very global warming that they are supposed to reduce. And yet these biofuels are treated as a clean development mechanism for reducing emissions in the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol totally avoided the material challenge of stopping activities that lead to higher emissions and the political challenge of regulating the polluters and making them pay in accordance with principles adopted at the Rio Earth Summit. Instead, Kyoto introduced a system of emissions trading which in effect rewards the polluters by assigning them rights to degrade the atmosphere and allowing trading in these rights. Today, the emissions trading market has reached USD 30 billion and is expected to reach USD 1 trillion. Meanwhile carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase, as do profits from polluting industrial activities.

Mitigation requires material changes in production and consumption patterns. Globalisation has driven up production and consumption worldwide which has significantly increased carbon dioxide emissions. World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules for trade liberalisation force countries onto a high emissions pathway. Similarly, World Bank lending for super highways, thermal power plants, industrial agriculture, and corporate retail coerces countries to emit more greenhouse gases.

Giant corporations like Cargill and Walmart are also responsible. Cargill is an important player in spreading soya cultivation in the Amazon and palm oil plantations in the rainforests of Indonesia, which increase CO2 emissions both by burning forests to clear land and by destroying the massive carbon sink the rainforests and peat lands provide. And Walmart’s model of long-distance centralised trade is a recipe for increasing the carbon dioxide burden in the atmosphere.

The first step in mitigation requires a focus on the real actions that have led to the current crisis and the real actors. Real actions include moving away from ecological farming and local food systems. Real actors include global agribusiness, the WTO, and the World Bank. Real actions involve the destruction of rural economies with low emission and their replacement with urban sprawl designed and planned by builders and construction companies. Real actions involve the destruction of sustainable transport systems that are based on renewable energy and public transport and the adoption of private automobiles instead. The real actors pushing this transition to non-sustainability in mobility are the oil companies and automobile corporations.

The Kyoto Protocol totally avoided the material challenge of stopping activities that lead to higher emissions and the political challenge of regulating the polluters and making them pay in accordance with principles adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Instead, Kyoto introduced a system of emissions trading which in effect rewards the polluters by assigning them rights to degrade the atmosphere and allowing trading in these rights.

Today, the emissions trading market has reached USD 30 billion and is expected to reach USD 1 trillion. Meanwhile carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase, as do profits from polluting industrial activities.

Another false solution to climate change is the promotion of biofuels made from corn, soya, palm oil, and jatropha. Biofuels — fuels derived from biomass — continue to be the most important energy source for the poor in the world: energy for cooking the food comes from inedible biomass like dried cow dung, stalks of millet and pulses, and agro-forestry species on village wood lots.

Industrial biofuels, however, are not the fuels of the poor but rather the foods of the poor, transformed into heat, electricity, and transport. Liquid biofuels, in particular ethanol and bio-diesel, constitute one of the fastest growing sectors of production, driven by the search for alternatives to fossil fuels both to avoid the catastrophe of peak oil and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

On December 19, President Bush signed legislation to require the replacement of 36 billion gallons of gasoline with biofuels by 2022.

Inevitably the resulting massive increase in the demand for grains is going to come at the expense of the satisfaction of human needs, with poor people priced out of the food market.

Industrial biofuels are being promoted as a source of renewable energy and as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and yet converting crops like soya, corn and palm oil into liquid fuels can actually aggravate climate chaos and the CO2 burden:

First, the deforestation caused by expanding soya plantations and palm oil plantations is leading to increased CO2 emissions. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 25-30 percent of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year -1.6 billion tonnes- comes from deforestation. For instance, by 2022, biofuel plantations could destroy 98 percent of Indonesia’s rainforests.

According to Wetlands International, the destruction of South East Asia’s peat lands to create palm oil plantations is contributing 8 percent of global CO2 emissions. According to Delft Hydraulics, every tonne of palm oil results in 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions — 10 times as much as petroleum production. And yet these biofuels are treated as a clean development mechanism for reducing emissions in the Kyoto Protocol. The truth is that biofuels contribute to the very global warming that they are supposed to reduce. (World Rainforest Bulletin No.112, November 2006)

Worse yet, the conversion process of biomass to liquid fuel uses more fossil fuel than it substitutes.

The US will use 20 percent of its corn to produce 5 billion gallons of ethanol, which will replace only 1 percent of its oil use. If 100 percent of corn was used, only 5 percent of the total oil would be substituted. This is clearly not a solution either to peak oil or climate chaos.

The false solutions examined above will not mitigate but actually aggravate the climate crisis, while also deepening and spreading inequality, hunger, and poverty. (END/COPYRIGHT)

 
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