Friday, April 30, 2010

Yet another wonder agrofuel source

Washington studied for oilseed biofuel

Camelina: It could fuel military aircraft

KEVIN MCCULLEN; The Associated Press | • Published April 28, 2010

TRI-CITIES — An oilseed that can grow in arid spots could one day supply fuel for commercial and military aircraft, power Navy ships and give livestock an heart-healthy nutrient.

Camelina produces an oil that shows so much promise as an aviation biofuel
Agrofuel source that 14 major airlines have an agreement with a Seattle-based company to buy up to 750 million gallons of the fuel.

The oilseed is a member of the mustard family.

Airline and aircraft manufacturers that are part of the Airline Transportation Action Group have committed by 2015 to making biofuels 1 percent — about 500 million to 600 million gallons — of their annual fuel consumption, a Boeing executive said in February at a clean energy conference in Kennewick. The Air Force and Navy also have contracts with a biofuels company to supply it with camelina-based fuel for aircraft and ships.

Last month, an Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt flew on a 50-50 blend of camelina-based fuel and regular jet fuel, and similar tests are planned with a Navy F-18 and other aircraft.

Moreover, studies conducted by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Washington State University have shown camelina can be grown in arid, nonirrigated and marginal soils found in some parts of Eastern Washington.

Researchers have found that the oilseed tolerates cold, needs a minimal amount of water, grows to maturity rapidly, doesn’t require much fertilizer and works well as a rotational crop with wheat.

And it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to heart health. Meal from crushed camelina seed has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for use as feed for beef cattle and broiler chickens.

The North American Camelina Trade Association, which includes camelina seed companies, processors and researchers, said last year it was working to obtain FDA certification for camelina meal use in feed for laying hens, swine and dairy cows.

“We’re in the pioneering stages of this technology,” said Hal Collins, a research soil microbiologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service unit in Prosser who’s been part of a team studying camelina and other renewable fuel feedstocks.

Camelina also can reduce carbon emissions in aviation fuel. An analysis by researchers from Michigan Tech University and others has shown camelina reduces carbon emissions by about 80 percent compared with petroleum fuel, according to Seattle-based AltAir Fuels.

Funny how each time a new wonderfuel source is touted, the touts never go back to discuss what happened to the LAST one . . .

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Government rethinks biofuels

Government rethinks biofuels

The Department for Transport has put the brakes on a controversial target for biofuels to make up 10% of the fuel we use for transport.


False solution

Biofuels are being promoted as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

But research has shown that biofuel targets won't reduce emissions - they might even accelerate climate change.

Biofuel plantations cause massive destruction:

  • Forests are chopped down to make way for plantations
  • In other areas biofuel crops can take away land from food production

Despite this evidence the Government wanted to quadruple biofuel targets from 2.5% of fuel use last year to 10% in 2020.

EU pushing for targets

The EU are big supporters of biofuels and have been pushing for the target to be implemented in the UK.

This would lead to demand for millions of tons of biofuels from palm oil, soya and other crops.

Turnaround by UK Government

But the Department for Transport has now confirmed that it will not include the 10% target in its National Action Plan on Renewable Energy (due to be submitted to the EU in June).

This is a direct result of sustained pressure from activists and heeding evidence from its own scientific research.

In another positive move the Department has announced that it wants more research into the viability of biofuels as a means to reduce emissions.

Target not ruled out in future

Friends of the Earth applauds the Government's decision to opt for precaution on this important issue.

But major causes of concern still remain:

  • The UK is still committed to 5% biofuel use by 2014
  • Only one fifth of biofuels used in the UK meet the Government's own standard
  • The Government will reconsider the 10% target in February 2011

European policy shift needed

EU legislation still contains a 10% biofuel target for all member states.

While this remains the case the Government will be under huge pressure to implement this target in the UK.
Friends of the Earth continues to campaign for the European target to be scrapped.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ethiopia: German biofuel company fails

Ethiopia: German biofuel company fails as employees abscond with assets
Ethiopian Ministry of Mines and Energy has announced the failure of the German-based Flora EcoPower, the largest biofuel farm and Refinery Company in Ethiopia.

An investigation by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to ascertain the state of affairs at the Flora Eco Power in Oromia Regional State has revealed the closure of a castor bean plantation as well as the company's inability to pay its employees since, at least, the last five months.

The investigation report follows the company's failure to pay its bank loans, which amount to about 15 million birr, and reports that the management had not been seen for several months, as well as a nonoperational farm.

The German-based bio fuel company began operating on a controversial 8,000 hectare land in Fedise, with a registered capital in 2007 of 671million birr (US$77 million).

The area the company acquired was the cause of local and international clamour from environmentalists, given that over 80 per cent the land was part of the Babile Elephant Sanctuary that was established 40 years ago.

Despite the controversy, the investment was supported by the regional and federal government, and was even the proud host of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in early 2007.

The German biofuel venture was expected to open new perspectives for crop diversification and increased income security in a predominantly coffee producing area.

During its whole existence in Ethiopia, Flora EcoPower — which is also active in Israel and China where it was collaborating on the establishment of a 200,000 hectare jatropha plantation in 2007,— exported its product only three times.

The Ethiopian Government has prepared 23.3 million hectares of suitable land for biofuel investment.

According to data from the Ethiopian Investment Agency, over 60 companies wishing to invest in the sector were issued licenses. Presently, only 10 companies are believed to be operational.

Meanwhile, disappointed employees at the Flora EcoPower company who are yet to receive salary arrears have resorted to absconding with some of the company's assets in the absence of the managerial staff.


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World's 2010 nature target 'will not be met'

Page last updated at 18:07 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 19:07 UK

Burning trees in Brazil (Image: PA)Threats to biodiversity, such as habitat loss, are still on the increase

The world's governments will not meet their internationally-agreed target of curbing the loss of species and nature by 2010, a major study has confirmed.

Virtually all species and ecosystems show continued decline, while pressures on nature are increasing, it concludes.

Published in the journal Science, the study confirms what conservationists have known for several years.

The 2010 target was adopted in 2002, but the scientists behind this study say implementation has been "woeful".

"Our analysis shows that governments have failed to deliver on the commitments they made in 2002," said research leader Stuart Butchart, from the UN Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Unep-WCMC) and BirdLife International.

"Biodiversity is still being lost as fast as ever, and we have made little headway in reducing the pressures on species, habitats and ecosystems."

Unep chief scientist Joseph Alcamo added: "Since 1970, we have reduced animal populations by 30%, the area of mangroves and seagrasses by 20% and the coverage of living corals by 40%.

"These losses are clearly unsustainable."

Growing gap

The study combined more than 30 indicators of how species and ecosystems are changing.

Everyone, from individuals to businesses, must act now to save all life on Earth before we reach breaking point

Jean-Christophe VieIUCNRichard Black's Earth Watch blog

These encompass plants and animals from land and sea.

Very few of the indicators gave any hint that biodiversity loss was decreasing at all.

Meanwhile, measures of threat - such as loss of habitat, climate change and colonisation by harmful non-native species - were virtually all increasing.

Policies to restrict the threats to biodiversity are simply not up to the job, the authors argue.

"Although nations have put in place some significant policies to slow biodiversity declines, these have been woefully inadequate, and the gap between the pressures on biodiversity and the responses is getting ever wider," said Dr Butchart.

While about 12% of land is now under some kind of protection, not all of it is effectively managed.

And less than 1% of the world's oceans is protected.

'No excuse'

Conservationists hope that laying the sheer scale of the issue before governments will induce them to take tougher steps in the near future.

"We can no longer use the excuse that we don't know enough about the loss of diversity of life on our planet," said Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy head of the Species Programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"The role of governments is paramount; but the magnitude and rate of loss of biodiversity means that everyone, from individuals to businesses, must act now to save all life on Earth before we reach breaking point."

Governments will review their failure to meet the 2010 target, and probably set new ones, at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) summit in Nagoya, Japan, in October.

New targets are likely to be directed at stemming the threats to biodiversity, such as unsustainable agriculture, pollution and the growing scale of cities and transport networks.

"World leaders faced the economic crisis head on," noted Simon Stuart, head of IUCN's Species Survival Commission.

"We need that same level of investment and commitment for the environment."

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Water shortages biggest barrier to increasing food production


There should be a focus on water productivity rather than food productivity say analysts

Water shortages biggest barrier to increasing food production


28th April, 2010

The real issue in food production is not whether we should go for intensive agriculture, GM crops or organic but future water availability, says an environmental think-tank

Arguments over which type of farming will best meet growing food demands are ignoring the most critical factor - water availability - say analysts from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

Agriculture currently uses 70 per cent of the freshwater available for human use and, according to the IWMI, unless there is a huge leap in water-use efficiency on farms worldwide, a 70 or 100 per cent increase in food production will require roughly twice the amount of water in use today.

'The numbers don't add up,' said IWMI Deputy director Colin Chartres, 'That amount of additional water just isn't there. In fact, because of rising demand for water in other sectors, agriculture will have to produce more food with even less water.' 

Water warnings

A number of recent reports have emphasised the threat of water scarcity. The Lloyds insurance group warned that water stress was leading to price instability in agricultural markets. It said the record sugar price levels in August 2009 were in part a response to the projections of weaker monsoons in India and irregular rains in Brazil.

It also highlighted South Asia as a particular hotspot where, 'over-exploitation of water resources is being driven by a high population density, climate variability, hydropower requirements, poor water governance and widespread ecological collapse of freshwater systems'.

Water Productivity

Chartres said water availability was being 'overlooked' by agronomists when they were looking at increasing yields or, in some cases, assumed to be 'infinitely available'.

He said governments and advocacy groups like the Soil Association should focus more on ways of improving water management practices in agriculture.

'The issue here is that we should be trying to optimise water productivity (yield per unit volume of water applied or evapotranspirated) for all production systems. In some countries small farms are more productive than larger ones, but in others large and intensive systems perform better,' said Chartres.

The IWMI said more precise water delivery could make irrigation more efficient while water rationing and pricing could persuade farmers to reduce consumption. It also recommended governments should promote agricultural trade from water abundant and water efficient regions to water scarce areas and also influence diets toward more water-efficient foods.

'It is not the amount of water that is lacking globally. Rather we are lacking in good management of water and land resources,' said IWMI director David Molden in a recent speech on water scarcity.

Useful links
International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
Lloyd's insurance group water report

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West Papua: Land grab to displace locals

West Papua: Land grab to displace locals

By Peter Robson

Plans for a US$6 billion food estate in the Merauke region of West Papua has been attacked by farmer and environmental organisations as a land grab that would destroy 2 million hectares of virgin forest.

The new Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate program was launched on January 17 by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. It is expected to begin harvesting rice, wheat and palm oil by 2012.The slogan for the project is "Feed Indonesia and then the world", but local farmers are concerned that the project will undermine traditional agriculture and food sovereignty in the region.

The project would involve the leasing of the land for up to 90 years. West Papua has been claimed as an Indonesian province, based on a farcical 1969 "act of free choice" in which just over 1000 handpicked Papuan representatives voted to integrate into Indonesia.

An ongoing campaign for self-determination by Papuans has faced ongoing violent repression, and it is illegal to even raise the Papuan Morning Star national flag. The rights of Papua's indigenous majority will be further undermined by this new development.

Elisha Kartini, an activist from the Indonesian Farmer Union (SPI), told the United Nations humanitarian news agency IRIN on March 26: "Food is not just a commercial commodity but is also a basic human right, and leaving food provision to the private sector can hinder people's access to food because corporations are driven by profit."

Indonesian environmental organisation Walhi has called the estate a land grab. Walhi spokesperson Muhammad Islah told IRIN the project was a land grab and would cause local farmers to suffer because they would be unable to compete with major corporations.

The huge scale of the project will destroy up to 2 million hectares of forest, which would further endanger Papua's farmland to sea-level rises. Walhi said: "Large-scale land conversions in Merauke, which consists of predominantly low-lying land and marshes, could cause it to lose its land areas.

"The decrease in forest and water catchment areas could result in a faster intrusion of sea water to the land." A huge workforce would be needed for the food estate project. The Merauke population is expected to grow from 175,000 to 800,000.

The total number of workers for the project would be around 6.4 million people — three times the current Papuan population of 2.1 million. The vast number of migrant workers needed for the project raises the prospect of cultural dispossession and conflicts between different ethic groups over land.

It amounts to a continuation of the "transmigrasi" project carried out by the dictatorship of former Indonesian president Suharto in the 1970s. A government project subsidised the transfer of hundreds of thousands of workers from the central parts of Indonesia — such as Bali and Java — to the outer islands — such as Papua.

This was partly a plan to undermine West Papua's struggle for self-determination by altering the population make-up in favour of new residents who identify with Indonesia.

The project was an economic and social disaster that failed to produce much in the way of food but a great deal in the way of inter-ethnic conflict over land rights in the areas it was applied.

The West Papua Advocacy Team said in a March report: "Conflict has arisen as local populations are marginalised in their own homelands as government supports programmes that favour the internal migrants to the disadvantage of locals.

"There is growing opposition to the scheme from small-scale Papuan farmers who say they fear their traditional livelihoods will be threatened by the large-scale, state-subsidized commercialization of agriculture."

The development is being driven by a rise in global demand for agricultural land. Large countries with limited farmland are now part of a global land rush, buying up good agricultural land in Africa, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region. In March 2009, South Korean company Daewoo was narrowly prevented from acquiring more than 50% of Madagascar's agricultural land. Japan leases more than 100,000 hectares of Brazilian land for soya production.

A number of African leaders have raised concerns at the rapid pace at which foreign companies are buying up farmland in the region.


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FoE report critical of India's Jatropha policy

"Losing the plot - the threats to community land and the rural poor through the spread of the biofuel jatropha in India"

<Report from FoE Europe about the Indian Govt's policy to produce 20% of the country's diesel - mostly from jatropha oil - by 2017. If all that biodiesel came from jatropha, it would require 30-40 million hectares of land to grow the trees.

(The UK total land area is about 23 million hectares.)>

A few excerpts:

"Farmers are lured into growing Jatropha by enticing offers of low interest loans, agreements with companies guaranteeing the purchase of the produce, commission and bonus on the selling profits, and the promise of an assured income while sitting at home.
When all these assurances do not materialize and the companies which were supposed to procure the produce vanish, the farmers are left in a quandary. Debt ridden, they are forced to sell their lands."

"The company [D1 Oils India] found itself at the centre of controversy in 2005 when it was accused of "biopiracy," after 18 different genetic varieties of jatropha which had been allegedly stolen from the Indira Gandhi Agricultural University were found on a D1 Oils farm. At the same time, a member of staff from the university left suddenly to work for D1 Oils.

D1 Oils said that the plants still belonged to the university, but a state government judicial report (2006) found the company to be in breach of the Biodiversity Act and it was subsequently barred from conducting research on jatropha."

Just one of the many personal stories in the report:

"Our village Panchayat planted jatropha on our common land as part of the government policy. The government gave us saplings and money for planting. Now, after two years, barely 25 per cent of them are surviving."
Chundu Ram Sahoo, Dy. Sarpanch, Dhanora, Durg


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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Developers bypass African environmental standards through tribal negotiations

In Ghana, a new report on the impacts of large-scale foreign land acquisitions in the central Ghanaian regions of Brong Ahafo and Ashanti found that "many affected households were forced to relinquish their land without any form of compensation or guarantees of future returns. Many land losing households consequently experienced a marked decline in livelihood quality as a result of reduced incomes, increased food insecurity, and loss of access to vital forest products."

The report found that land was typically acquired through direct negotiations with traditional clan authorities, and that "only a small minority of foreign companies in Ghana was found to have registered at the appropriate government agencies and to have obtained the mandatory environmental permits."

Full report at


Some of the most significant obstacles to sustainable development from agricultural FDI in Ghana are the limited oversight of government agencies and limited downward accountability (and foresight) of Chiefs. The negligence of many companies in obtaining the necessary permits and registering at the appropriate agencies limits government capacity to monitor adverse impacts. Lack of coordination between different government agencies and levels of government, caused in part by capacity constraints and the absence of mechanisms and incentives for collaboration and effective oversight, are partially responsible for this phenomenon.

Also of concern is the now `customary' tendency for Traditional Authorities to act with impunity and customary land users to throw up their hands in the face of Chiefly authority. Finally, limited awareness of the true value of land, limited foresight of the magnitude of future impacts (both benefits and costs) and weak negotiation skills by both Chiefs and customary land users will undermine any efforts to leverage simplified processes for enhancing "local participation" or "local consultation" as means to leverage more meaningful benefits.

Although some of the observed impacts may be specific to jatropha monoculture, most observed impact pathways are equally relevant to other types of agricultural enterprise. Considering the scale and scope of the issue in Ghana, regulating these developments, regardless of end-market, should become a political priority. In view of this, the government of Ghana should seek to enhance cross-accountability of relevant government agencies to ensure these land-based developments comply with relevant legislation. Moreover, these agencies should be mandated to ensure land lease agreements are enforced and equitable in their distribution of costs and benefits.

In regards to the latter, it is imperative that mechanisms be adopted to enhance the accountability of Traditional Authorities to their constituents to ensure that: (i) all economic losses are duly compensated for; (ii) alternative livelihoods at equal or greater value are secured; and (iii) meaningful co-benefits for local communities (e.g. infrastructure and social services) are integrated into contractual agreements between companies and Customary Authorities. The development of detailed land acquisition guidelines to this effect would be an important first step in fostering more meaningful local benefit capture.

Additionally, the development of comprehensive guidelines on the content and validation mechanisms of Environmental Impact Assessments for these companies would contribute to ensuring that acquiring an environmental permit does not become a tool for "green washing" unsustainable business practices.

3. The State of Biofuel Development in Ghana

In Ghana, a total of 17 commercial biofuel developments have been identified by the research. Fifteen of these companies are foreign-owned and/or financed by the Ghanaian diaspora, with all but one adopting business models that require large-scale feedstock plantations of more than 1,000 hectares. Although almost half of the foreign companies involved in plantation development plan in time to engage smallholders through outgrower agreements, no such schemes are yet to be observed. As the CEO of one company remarked, "It is first important to establish yourself a market before committing anything to smallholders".

Thirteen of the foreign companies focus primarily on the cultivation of Jatropha Curcas, a plant which produces non-edible oil seeds, one on cassava and another on oil palm. By August 2009, it is estimated that these companies collectively had access to 1,075,000 hectares of land, 730,000 hectares of which is located in the forest-savanna transition zone of central Ghana's Brong Ahafo and northern Ashanti regions. The high concentration of investors in this area can presumably be attributed to the high agro-ecological suitability of land in the area, relatively low population densities, the ease of obtaining large contiguous areas of land, and the physical accessibility to key markets.

Only a fraction of these lands have, however, actually come under cultivation, with no more than 10,000 hectares likely to be under cultivation by these investors. Based on remote sensing data, the largest contiguous areas under cultivation are located in central Ghana, where three plantations cover approximately 1,250 hectares, 1,050 hectares, and 850 hectares of land (the oldest plantations dating back to early 2008), as depicted in Figure 1 . Few companies in Ghana have commenced feedstock cultivation in earnest, with many companies still assessing productivity with small pilot plantations or having become `dormant' following the financial crisis.


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BP Biofuels boss commits to huge expansion

BP Biofuels chief calls biofuels "the new oil"

In the Opening Address at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference in Washington, BP Biofuels CEO Philip New said that advanced biofuels "will require partnerships if it is to succeed," but described biofuels as "the new oil, created from unlimited sources of frees biomass rather than the limited fossil resources of biomass." He said "I am not here as the representative of an oil company, but of an energy company that embraces advanced biofuels as…a major part of our upstream [exploration] business."

New said that BP's research into biofuels concluded that, over a 30-year period, its biofuels business could have the potential to replace 17 billion barrels of oil equivalent, compared to its 18.3 billion barrels of proved oil reserves."

He said that, at BP, biofuels must compete with "large scale, profitable oil and gas projects for investment," and said that biofuels investments must be "low-cost – with a benchmark of $1.00 per gallon; low-carbon on a well to wheels, measured emissions basis; scaleable; and socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable."

In his address, New said that "the more we look at the [US] Renewable Fuel Standard, we are…surprisingly admiring of the effort of RFS2, which is really robust." He criticized the analysis of biofuels using "conjectural models of theoretical indirect impact," and said that BP's view was that there were too many organizations trying to define sustainability using overly-complex mechanisms, but said that regulation should reward quality as well as quantity, and looked forward to a time when the only policy support needed for biofuels development was a long-term price on carbon.


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Large-scale soy farming in Brazil pushes ranchers into the Amazon rainforest

April 28, 2010

Industrial soy expansion in the Brazilian Amazon has contributed to deforestation by pushing cattle ranchers further north into rainforest zones, reports a new study published the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The research, which looked at soy and cattle dynamics in the southern Amazon stats of Mato Grosso and Par&aacte, supports the claim that soy is an important indirect driver of deforestation in the world's largest rainforest.

The authors — including Elizabeth Barona, Navin Ramankutty, Glenn Hyman and Oliver Coomes — analyzed annual census data on deforestation, crop harvest area, livestock population, and pasture area between 2000 and 2006 from municipalities in the Brazilian Legal Amazon. Their analysis found that deforestation shifted 39 km to the northeast during the period, while pasture shifted 87 km to the northwest, from northeastern Mato Grosso to southwestern Para, and soybeans moved 82 km to the northeast, from southern to northeastern Mato Grosso. The researchers also noted that soybean expansion was accompanied by a decline in pasture area in many municipalities in Mato Grosso, lending support to the argument that "decreases in pasture in Mato Grosso owing to soybean expansion may have been compensated by increases in pasture elsewhere in northern Mato Grosso, Para and Rondônia causing some deforestation indirectly, i.e., 'displacement deforestation.'" The authors say future research should "examine more closely how interlinkages between land area, prices, and policies influence the relationship between soy and deforestation, in order to make a conclusive case for 'displacement deforestation.'"

Soy in the Amazon

Soy production in the Amazon exploded in the early 1990s following the development of a new variety of soybean suitable to the soils and climate of the region. Most expansion occurred in the cerrado, a wooded grassland ecosystem, and the transition forests in the southern fringes in the Amazon basin, especially in states of Mato Grosso and Pará — direct conversion of rainforests for soy has been relatively limited. Instead, the impact of soy on rainforests — as suggested by the Environmental Research Letters study — is generally seen to be indirect. Soy expansion has driven up land prices, created impetus for infrastructure improvements that promote forest clearing, and displaced cattle ranchers to frontier areas, spurring deforestation. The Brazilian soy industry argues that it receives an unfair share of the blame for Amazon forest loss. It notes that producers in the legal Amazon face some of the most stringent environmental laws in the world, with landowners required to maintain 80 percent forest cover on their holdings. By comparison there are no legal forest reserve requirements for U.S. farmers.

Nevertheless soy growers, crushers, and traders have taken steps to reduce the environmental impact of their crop in the Amazon biome. After a damaging Greenpeace campaign in 2006, leading players in the industry agreed to a moratorium on soy grown on newly deforested lands. Analysis last year showed that growers are mostly abiding by the ban: only 12 of 630 sample areas (1,389 of 157,896 hectares) deforested since July 2006 — the date the moratorium took effect — were planted with soy.

Elizabeth Barona, Navin Ramankutty, Glenn Hyman and Oliver Coomes. The role of pasture and soybean in deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon. Environ. Res. Lett. 5 (April-June 2010) 024002 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/5/2/024002

Rhett A. Butler,


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Indonesia: Over 2 million hectares of forests illegally shifted to plantations

Over 2 million hectares of forests illegally shifted to plantations
Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Wed, 04/28/2010 5:28

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said on Wednesday that over 2 million hectares of forests had been converted illegally into oil palm plantations in the country.

Zulkifli made the statement during his meeting with the Anti Judiciary Mafia Task Force at the forestry ministry's office.

He said that the illegal plantations firms were operated both in protected forests and conservation areas.

"We have mapped the areas of illegal plantations operated in forest areas," he told the task force.

Task force head Kuntoro Mangkusubroto with all members attended the meeting.

Minister warned that any delay of law enforcement on the illegal oil palm plantations would further accelerate forest damages.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered the task force to root out mafia in forestry sector.


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Press release by German conservation group NABU about biogas

4th Januar 2010

NABU in Lower Saxony demands a moratorium on the construction of biogas digester. Future new plants should only be permitted within a regional planning directive, provided that a 112-month capacity for storing biogas residues.

"We must draw a line in Lower Sacony because there isn't a second Lower Saxony around. The conversion of our countryside to maize for animal feed and for biogas digesters is accelerating fast", states bioenergy expert Uwe Baumert from NABU Lower Saxony. The multi-purpose biogas, wich can provide electricity, heat, transport and storage, needs to be used sensisble.

In some regions in Lower Saxony, maize already covers over 50% of arable land, no end is in sight and earth worms are also being decimated. "The earthworm's productivity is more important for the future of our society than the profits of the biggest banks", states the NABU expert and explains the reasons: "Earthworms avoid naize because food from decomposing organic matter is lacking on maize monocultures. This endangers soil fertility in many regions."

Application of biogas residues as fertiliser during months with little plant growth further worsens the situation. A 12-months storage capacity, instead of the current six-month one, needs to become obligatory. This would allow the valuable fertiliser to be applied at the time plants require it, as bioenergy expert Uwe Baumert stresses.

NABU expert Baumert continues: "Time for reflection is needed. Both public acceptance of bioenergy and our soils are at risk, and with soils the foundation for our agriculture, food and society. Finances are available through EU funding and changes in the agro-investment programme." Furthermore, Baumert promoted that fundamental NABU demand: "Bioenergy and biogas plants have to remain a small communal sector in the region and for the region. One has to speak to local people, involve them and develop joint models."

[Note: My translation of an article here: . NABU is the German member of BirdLife International.]


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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

USDA's Vilsack Lists Three "B"s For Rural Growth

USDA's Vilsack Lists Three "B"s For Rural Growth


Date: 27-Apr-10
Country: US
Author: Charles Abbott

Broadband, biotech and biofuels can be as important to economic development in rural America as traditional farm supports, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday.

Vilsack called for a broad approach to farm policy during remarks to the North American Agricultural Journalists. "It has to include quality jobs as well," he said, noting that many growers need off-farm income to make ends meet.

The so-called farm bills written every few years by Congress cover nutrition, rural development, land stewardship, agricultural research and export programs as well as crop subsidies. Hearings have begun on the 2012 farm bill.

Larger farm exports and higher spending on farm supports have not prevented a dwindling in farm numbers, said Vilsack.

He said broadband Internet service, biofuels and biotechnology could create jobs in small towns and spur economic growth.

The head of the largest U.S. farm group said the future of farm policy should not be "an either-or conversation" that pits funding for rural development against crop supports.

"We have to have the whole conversation," said Bob Stallman of the 6 million-member American Farm Bureau Federation to reporters afterward.

The Obama administration has proposed a reduction in payments to the largest farmers. Stallman said full-time growers rely on the farm safety net and their needs should be part of the debate.

About 400,000 of the 2.2 million U.S. farms account for the lion's share of crop and livestock production. Many farms are too small to provide a family's income by themselves.

Rural America, home to 20 percent of the U.S. population, has higher poverty and jobless rates and lower average income levels than urban areas.

(Editing by David Gregorio)

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

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Green Transport Losing Share To Polluters: EU Study

Green Transport Losing Share To Polluters: EU Study

pollution 8

Date: 28-Apr-10
Country: BELGIUM
Author: Pete Harrison

Europe's greenest modes of transport are falling behind the biggest polluters, which is contributing to a steep rise in climate-warming emissions, the European Environment Agency said on Tuesday.

Road and air freight, which both have a large carbon footprint, grew slightly faster than the economy, at around 43 percent and 35 percent respectively between 1997 and 2007, the European Union agency added in its annual review of transport's environmental impact.

The market share of the cleanest freight modes -- rail and inland waterways -- declined over the same period, it said.

The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that eastern European countries, which joined the EU in the 1990s, have traditionally had poor rail links to western Europe.

European passenger airlines are increasing their traffic by about 48 percent each decade. While passenger demand for rail remained steady in western Europe in the 10 years to 2007, it declined heavily in eastern Europe.

"It's clear from this analysis that transport is still heading in a totally unsustainable direction," said Jos Dings, director of T&E, which campaigns for green transport.

"At the same time, governments no longer have the cash to invest in expensive infrastructure," he added. "The best way out of these twin crises is to invest in pricing schemes that bring in revenues and improve efficiency, and, at the same time, to cut all subsidies to highly polluting modes such as aviation."

The report comes a day before the European Union's executive launches a green-transport strategy that is expected to put heavy emphasis on electric vehicles. Car journeys remained the dominant mode of transport in the EU's 27 member countries, accounting for 72 percent of all kilometers travelled, the EEA said.

European emissions from internal transport grew by nearly a third between 1990 and 2007 and now account for around 19.3 percent of overall emissions.

(Editing by Amanda Cooper)

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

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SNP biomass plant plans under attack

April 25, 2010
SNP biomass plant plans under attack
biomass plantPlans to build a network of biomass power plants in Scotland as part of Alex Salmond's green revolution could damage the environment and cost thousands of jobs, according to a new report.

A shortage of domestic wood means that millions of tonnes of timber will have to be imported to fuel the plants, which are a key element of the SNP's renewable energy strategy.

In addition to the carbon footprint of importing wood, the independent study warns that the surge in demand from government-subsidised biomass plants is likely to squeeze Scottish timber-processing firms out of the market.

According to the report, commissioned by the Confederation of Forest Industries (ConFor), demand for wood could exceed supply as early as next year — before the biggest biomass plants are built.

There are only a handful of the plants in Scotland, but more than a dozen are in the pipeline.

The biggest is a 225-megawatt plant in Hunterston, North Ayrshire. Others include four 100-megawatt plants at the ports of Leith, Rosyth, Grangemouth and Dundee. These four plants alone would burn four million tonnes of wood every year, almost half of Scottish timber production.

A subsidy of £8.1m was given to a 44-megawatt plant in Markinch, Fife, and £10m to a plant in Irvine, Ayrshire. The largest biomass plant in Scotland — and one of the UK's largest — is in Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway. The £114m plant delivers 44 megawatts of energy and burns 475,000 tonnes of sustainable wood a year.

The report, by the Edinburgh-based firm John Clegg Consulting, concludes: "If new large users of British-grown wood and other wood fibre enter the marketplace, supported by subsidy, then it can only be at the expense of existing users, impacting negatively and disproportionately on sustainability, employment, carbon sequestration and mitigation of climate change."

Stuart Goodall, chief executive of ConFor, which represents about 2,000 woodland owners and forest businesses across the UK, urged the Scottish government to reconsider its policy of subsidising biomass plants.

"Diverting wood from existing users to large-scale biomass plants will be bad for the environment and bad for jobs.

"By subsidising the dash to large-scale biomass, the Scottish government threatens to damage its own aim of a low-carbon economy — creating an artificial market that undermines its environmental and economic objectives. The policy will create a huge demand for wood that just isn't there."

Only 12% of Britain is covered by forest, the lowest proportion of any European country. About 20,000 workers are employed in Scotland in industries that use wood, such as saw-milling and wood-panel, paper and pulp manufacturing.

Tom Bruce Jones, joint managing director of James Jones & Sons, Scotland's largest independent saw-miller, said there would not be enough domestic wood to meet demand once all of the biomass plants come on stream.

"The timber processing sector has invested more than £250m in Scotland in the past five years. As a company, we employ 550 personnel directly, and many hundreds more indirectly. We rely on secure long-term supplies of wood and, as can be seen from the report, there are not significant additional volumes available."

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said biomass plants would make a "significant contribution" to achieving government targets.

The Scottish government, which is opposed to nuclear energy, has set a target of 31% of electricity supply to be generated from renewable sources by next year, and 50% by 2020.

A spokesman said: "We want to see a balanced use of wood that allows all who depend on it to continue to flourish, and make the maximum contribution to growing Scotland's economy."


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BBC - The Price of Bio Fuels

BC World Service
Last updated: 3 march, 2010 - 10:10 GMT
The Price of Bio Fuels

Skid rd Once, bio-fuels were seen as the answer to global warming and dwindling oil stocks. Today, many who took that line, believe instead that they increase pollution and are behind worldwide environmental havoc, rising food prices, and worsening hunger and poverty.

The first official hint of changing attitudes came in the Gallagher Review of 2007, which expressed concerns that bio fuels - renewable liquid fuels derived from plant or animal material – not only didn't help climate control, but were making poor people in the developing world even poorer.

Once, bio fuels were seen as the answer to global warming and dwindling oil stocks. Today, many who took that view, believe instead that they increase pollution - and are behind worldwide environmental havoc, rising food prices, and worsening hunger and poverty.

Then, bodies as diverse as the World Bank and major charities defined bio fuels as "a crime against humanity" and "a silent tsunami". And then some alarming facts emerged – for example, that the grain required to fill the tank of a Range Rover with ethanol is sufficient to feed one person for a year, and that American land turned over to bio fuel production every two years alone would fill 250 million mouths.

But that is not the whole story. Governments and multi-nationals fight what they see as a simplistic black-and-white approach, insisting that bio fuels remain our best hope for the future - despite some damaging side-effects. Scientists, meanwhile, working on `a second generation' of bio fuels which, they believe, could eradicate those side-effects.

For this documentary, investigative reporter Gerry Northam finds out exactly how much bio fuels cost and who is paying for it.

He visits Paraguay, where the expansion of the soy industry has happened in tandem with the violent suppression of small farmers and indigenous communities. It's being alledged that farmers are being bullied into growing soy with pesticides at the expense of their food crops, health, farms, and – in many cases – their lives.

First broadcast on 26 April 2010

[Note: You can listen to the programme here: ]


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Monday, April 26, 2010

The great biofuels swindle; C. Ford Runge blog


[Also in Ottowa Citizen, Montreal Gazette]

The great biofuels swindle


Ottawa law may win praise from across the political spectrum, but there are better alternatives

Brenda Zeniert, biodiesel production coordinator at Alberta's Olds College, explains how canola is used in biodiesel. If passed, a federal law will require five per cent of gasoline's fuel content to come from renewable sources.

Brenda Zeniert, biodiesel production coordinator at Alberta's Olds College, explains how canola is used in biodiesel. If passed, a federal law will require five per cent of gasoline's fuel content to come from renewable sources.

Photograph by: Leah Hennel, Canwest News Service Files, Canwest News Service

Want to make $100? It's easy. You send me $550. Cash or cheque. In exchange, I will send you a cool $100. Cash or cheque. Or a money order, if you prefer.

Is that a deal or what? No? Only a fool would fall for this? Well, then, the government of Canada is run by fools -- because it is about to implement a new environmental regulation which delivers $1 in benefit for every $5.50 it costs.

By September, if the new law comes into force, an average of five per cent of the fuel content of gasoline will have to come from renewable fuels made from corn or wheat. Long discussed, the government formally announced at the beginning of April that it would go ahead with the regulation.

Why wouldn't they? Environmentalists love it because it will reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. In combination with other regulatory changes, the reductions will be "up to about four megatonnes per year," a government press release says, which is "the equivalent of taking one million vehicles off the road."

Farmers and agri-business love the regulation, too. Mandatory biofuel content means a huge volume of guaranteed sales. That's big money.

So the Conservative government wins praise from across the political spectrum. And, just as importantly, the Tories get to say they've done something big to fight climate change. What's not to love? Group hug!

But then reality barges in and spoils the moment.

A week after the politicians in charge of the government announced the regulation was going ahead, civil servants working for that same government quietly published the results of a cost-benefit analysis of the regulation. By assigning a reasonable price of $25 per tonne of emissions, the analysts concluded the regulation would deliver $580 million worth of reductions over 25 years. On the cost side, the regulation will not only raise the price of gasoline, but it will also require the construction of new plants and infrastructure. Total bill: $3.2 billion.

So it will deliver $1 in benefits for every $5.50 it costs. Impressive, isn't it?

To be fair, this cost-benefit analysis, like most such analyses, may not capture the full range of costs and benefits. But the big stuff is certainly included. And, when the gap between benefit and cost is as wide the Grand Canyon, you can be sure the regulation is a stinker. And, yet, it will soon be law. For that, we can thank the cowardice and venality of politicians.

The goal of this policy is not complicated. We want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That's it. So how do we do that? Ask any economist who specializes in environmental public policy and you will be told the key is to put a price on emissions and let the free market work its magic.

Right now, the atmosphere is a dump with no tipping fee. Emit a small volume of greenhouse gases and it costs you nothing; emit lots and it costs you nothing. Obviously, there is no incentive beyond moral suasion to reduce your emissions. And moral suasion just doesn't cut it as public policy.

Put a price on emissions and everything changes. People and industries who merrily pump out greenhouse gases will be punished with higher costs, while those who reduce their emissions will be rewarded with lower costs. This will create demand for alternative energy, for energy-efficient goods and services, for new conservation technologies. And demand creates supply: That's the first line in the catechism of the free market.

So why aren't we doing this? Because the simplest, fairest, and most efficient way to put a price on emissions is to introduce a carbon tax. Yes, a carbon tax. Before the federal election of 2008, politicians were afraid to even discuss such a thing. Then came the earnest and inept Stephane Dion. Today, federal politicians would sooner double the GST and close every hospital in the country than introduce a carbon tax.

A cap-and-trade system puts a price on emissions, as a carbon tax does, but there are differences. For one, cap-and-trade hides the cost to consumers, which is why politicians like it. Worse, cap-and-trade systems are also big and hideously complicated, which creates lots of opportunity for bungling and finagling. Anyway, this may be moot. The government may have promised to introduce cap-and-trade, but, at the speed it's going, Greenland will be blanketed with forest several decades before that happens.

So we are left with direct government intervention to do the job. And do it badly.

Lacking the informational dexterity and raw creativity of the free market, pulled this way and that by political considerations, governments are simply not suited to this sort of hands-on work. Cost-benefit turkeys like the biofuels regulation are all but inevitable. There will be more like it. Some -- I'd bet on the McGuinty government's alternative energy subsidies being one -- will turn into classic boondoggles.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks and the climate changes.


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