Five-year moratorium on food feedstock biofuel plants suggested at the UN

On Thursday, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food (that sounds like a good job) Jean Ziegler presented his annual report to the General Assembly. In it, Ziegler called for a five-year moratorium on building biofuel manufacturing plants that use food feedstocks (i.e., corn, palm oil). Biopact has all the details.
Ziegler also calls the idea that agrofuels (what we usually term biofuels around here) will provide us with enough energy so we don't have to reduce consumption a "false promise." It's important that we move quickly to second-generation biofuels (made from cellulosic and waste sources), Ziegler says - and pretty much everyone but those invested in corn ethanol or palm biodiesel agrees.

You can download the report from the UN (it's report A/62/289) or read the pertinent sections after the break. As the Energy Blog points out, a UN special rapporteurs are independent experts and do not receive any financial compensation for their work.

[Source: Biopact via The Energy Blog]

Protecting the right to food in biofuel production

43. Rather than persuading us to use less energy, the false promise of agrofuels suggests that we can help the climate by simply changing fuels. Yet many studies have shown that agrofuels may not even be "carbon-neutral" or make much contribution to setting off carbon dioxide emissions, once account is taken of the fossil fuels that are still needed to plant, harvest and process food crops for biofuels under highly mechanized industrial models of production. Agrofuel production is unacceptable if it brings greater hunger and water scarcity to the poor in developing countries.

44. The Special Rapporteur therefore calls for a five-year moratorium on biofuel production using current methods, to allow time for technologies to be devised and regulatory structures to be put in place to protect against negative environmental, social and human rights impacts. Many measures can be put in place during such a moratorium to ensure that biofuel production can have positive impacts and respect the right to adequate food. Such measures include:
  • (a) Promoting the need to reduce overall energy consumption and maintaining focus on all other methods of improving energy efficiency;
  • (b) Moving immediately to "second generation" technologies for producing biofuels, which would reduce the competition between food and fuel. Agricultural wastes and crop residues could be used. As IFPRI has pointed out: "the efficient exploitation of agricultural wastes presents significant potential for developing bio- energy without unduly disrupting existing agricultural practices and food production or requiring new land to come into production". Common crop residues that can be used include maize cobs, sugar cane bagasse, rice husks and banana leaves. In this way, biofuel production could be complementary to existing agriculture, rather than competing with it, and would not require massive diversion of food, land and water resources away from food production. Food prices would therefore remain stable, but farmers would have profitable ways of disposing of agricultural waste products, benefiting both consumers and producers;
  • (c) Adopting technologies that use non-food crops, particularly crops that can be grown in semi-arid and arid regions. The cultivation of Jatropha Curcas, a shrub that produces large oil-bearing seeds, appears to offer a good solution as it can be grown in arid lands that are not normally suitable for food crops. Over half of Africa's arid lands are considered suitable for Jatropha cultivation and cultivating this plant would not only produce biofuel but could simultaneously provide livelihoods for African farmers, increase the productivity of the soil and reverse land degradation and desertification;
  • (d) Ensuring that biofuel production is based on family agriculture, rather than industrial models of agriculture, in order to ensure more employment and rural development that provides opportunities, rather than competition, to poor peasant farmers. Organizing cooperatives of small farmers to grow crops for larger processing firms would provide much more employment than the concentration of land into heavily mechanized expanses and plantations. As ActionAid has pointed out "Biofuel could even be an important tool to fight hunger and poverty if it comes together with a set of appropriate policies involving smallholder farmers.

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