Thursday, March 31, 2011

Obama promises more biofuel production in US

The Obama Administration's Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future

"Today, my Administration is releasing a Blueprint for A Secure Energy Future that outlines the comprehensive national energy policy we've pursued since the day I took office. And here at Georgetown, I'd like to talk in broad strokes about how we will secure that future."
-- President Obama, March 30, 2011

Rising prices at the pump affect everybody – workers and farmers; truck drivers and restaurant owners. Businesses see it impact their bottom line. Families feel the pinch when they fill up their tank. For Americans already struggling to get by, it makes life that much harder. Demand for oil in countries like China and India is only growing, and the price of oil will continue to rise with it. That's why we need to make ourselves more secure and control our energy future by harnessing all of the resources that we have available and embracing a diverse energy portfolio.

Every president since Richard Nixon has called for America's independence from oil, but Washington gridlock has prevented action again and again. If we want to create a more secure energy future, and protect consumers at the pump, that has to change. When President Obama took office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. Today, he pledged that by a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third, and put forward a plan to secure America's energy future by producing more oil at home and reducing our dependence on oil by leveraging cleaner, alternative fuels and greater efficiency.

We've already made progress toward this goal – last year, America produced more oil than we had in the last seven years. And we're taking steps to encourage more offshore oil exploration and production – as long as it's safe and responsible. And, because we know we can't just drill our way out of our energy challenge, we're reducing our dependence on oil by increasing our production of natural gas and biofuels, and increasing our fuel efficiency. Last year, we announced ground-breaking fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks that will save consumers thousands of dollars and conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil.

And beyond our efforts to reduce our dependence on oil, we must focus on expanding cleaner sources of electricity, including renewables like wind and solar, as well as clean coal, natural gas, and nuclear power – keeping America on the cutting edge of clean energy technology so that we can build a 21st century clean energy economy and win the future.

To help us reach these goals, the Obama Administration is releasing a Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future (pdf) – which outlines the comprehensive national energy policy that this Administration has pursued since day one, and the which we will build upon to secure our energy future.


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NY Times: Ethanol Industry Hoping for Surge

Ethanol Industry Hoping for Surge

Published: March 30, 2011

CELLULOSIC ethanol could be poised for a surge — finally.

Around the country and especially in the Midwest, a number of proposed plants that would turn corn cobs, wheat straw and other plant-based feedstocks into fuel and sell it on the market are working to secure the last stages of financing, and some could become operational in the next few years. A smattering of smaller pilot plants are already operating, helping companies to hone the technology and economics of their product.

"With the right policies, we could unleash literally dozens of projects," Brooke Coleman, executive director of the recently formed Advanced Ethanol Council, a coalition that includes cellulosic companies, said in an e-mail. "Companies are ready to go."

Mr. Coleman said roughly a dozen advanced ethanol projects had all or nearly all of the pieces in place, including location, partners and financing. These are either already producing ethanol or moving ahead with plans to do so.

Another dozen or so companies also have plans, albeit somewhat less advanced. Mr. Coleman said those included large and small operations and companies that make ethanol from trash or algae, as well as from plant-based materials.

Of course, the cellulosic ethanol industry has had high hopes before. Four years ago, Congress ordered that 250 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol be produced in the United States in 2011. That would have equaled roughly 0.2 percent of the nation's annual gasoline use, a small but measurable amount.

Instead, after companies struggled to find capital during the economic downturn, federal regulators ratcheted down the expectations. Now, only 6.6 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol must be produced this year.

New plants would push the numbers up. In January, Coskata, an Illinois-based biofuel company, announced that the Agriculture Department would award it a $250 million loan guarantee to build a plant in Alabama capable of producing 55 million gallons of ethanol a year from wood debris. Poet, an ethanol maker based in South Dakota, hopes to have a 25 million-gallon-a-year cellulosic plant under construction in Iowa by the end of this year, according to Jeff Lautt, the company's president.

Another biofuels company, Mascoma, plans a $350 million, 40 million-gallon-a-year cellulosic plant in Michigan, and construction is expected to start this year, according to its chief executive, Bill Brady. Mascoma already operates a smaller demonstration plant in Rome, N.Y. Poet is operating one, too, in South Dakota.

The projected boom is coming at a time when rising oil prices stemming from Middle East unrest make ethanol more appealing. "It just further supports the need" for ethanol, said Mr. Lautt of Poet.

However, Mr. Coleman of the industry group noted that high oil prices might also make agricultural commodities more costly, and he said that the overall volatility of oil meant that "a short-term oil price spike is not going to suddenly result in biorefineries popping up all over the place," so government policies are vital.

Federal help is crucial to all these plants. Both Mascoma and Poet are awaiting loan guarantees from the federal government — an essential measure, says Mr. Lautt of Poet, because these are first-of-their-kind plants. Loans will cover about half the roughly $200 million to $250 million cost of Poet's plant, he said, and the project is also getting federal and state grants in addition to the equity Poet itself has put in.

But looming budget cuts could affect federal loan guarantees, Mr. Coleman said.

The federal government's support for the ethanol industry has come under sharp questioning in recent years, as opposition has grown against corn ethanol — the "first generation" type of ethanol produced in this country. Environmentalists argue that growing corn to make ethanol produces too many greenhouse gases, partly relating to land-use change it causes, and also cuts into food supplies.

However, the industry rebuffs such arguments and complains that corn ethanol has been unfairly singled out for such analysis. Ethanol makers say the integration of ethanol in the nation's gas pumps helped reduce reliance on foreign oil. It has also created infrastructure that will benefit later and more efficient types of ethanol, like cellulosic.

Right now, controversy is heating up in Congress over a 45 cents-a-gallon tax credit for blending ethanol with gasoline, known as the "volumetric ethanol excise tax credit," which was supposed to expire in December 2010 but was extended for one year. Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, is leading the charge to repeal the credit. Several ethanol industry groups — with some support from lawmakers in corn-growing places like Iowa — are trying to keep it.

The scheduled expiration is "going to force a serious conversation on how this country wants to incent ethanol," said Mr. Coleman of the ethanol group. The current tax credit does not distinguish between corn and cellulosic ethanol, and Mr. Coleman said any reform "should and likely will contain" provisions that would specifically provide incentives for advanced ethanol.

Federal officials have used a variety of tools over the years to promote ethanol, including mandated production goals. But many of these are increasingly controversial; the latest example was an E.P.A. decision in January to allow a 15 percent blend of ethanol into vehicles at least as new as the 2001 model. Ethanol makers sought this as a way to expand their market, but automakers resisted — and whether gasoline retailers will actually carry higher blends anytime soon remains to be seen.

Partly as a result of the controversy over corn ethanol, environmentalists are approaching cellulosic companies with a skeptical eye.

Franz Matzner, the Washington-based climate and air legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that "the verdict is still out on any feedstock" and that his group was especially concerned about "the push to turn our forests into fuel."

Mr. Brady of Mascoma, whose Michigan plant will use a mix of hardwood pulpwood (the type of low-value trees that pulp and paper companies often use), said his company was confident that it would engage in sustainable harvesting. He also noted that several pulp and paper mills would be closing in the area in coming years, which should increase the supply of wood.

Oil companies, meanwhile, are showing an interest in the new fuel. In January, the refinery giant Valero announced plans to invest up to $50 million in Mascoma's Michigan plant. Shell has created a joint venture with Iogen, a Canadian enzyme maker; the two companies have an Ottawa demonstration plant that produces fuel from wheat straw. In June, during the oil-spill cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico, BP spent $98 million to acquire the cellulosic business of its biofuel partner, Verenium, including plants in Louisiana and San Diego.

When the first commercial-scale operations arrive in the coming years, prospects for cellulosic ethanol should brighten, Mr. Brady of Mascoma said.

"Once we all show the world that these plants can work and these plants can be commercially viable," he said, "then things will really take off."


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ASA Adjudication on ExxonMobil UK Ltd - algae biofuel claims

ASA Adjudication on ExxonMobil UK Ltd

ExxonMobil UK Ltd

ExxonMobil House
Ermyn Way
KT22 8UX


9 March 2011





Number of complaints:



Euro RSCG London Ltd

Complaint Ref:



A TV ad for ExxonMobil UK Ltd (ExxonMobil) featured a scientist talking about researching algae as a source of biofuel. He said, "In using algae to form biofuels, we're not competing with the food supply, and they absorb CO2, so they help solve the greenhouse problem as well."


The complainant, who believed that any carbon dioxide (CO2) absorbed by algae would be re-released back into the atmosphere when it was burned as fuel, objected that the ad misleadingly implied that the technology would reduce CO2 levels.



ExxonMobil UK Ltd (EM) said one of the advantages associated with second generation biofuels like algae, was their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by partial replacement of conventional transport fuels derived from hydrocarbons. They said lifecycle analysis showed that using second generation biofuels resulted in lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fuels. They said this was because biofuel feedstocks absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere and therefore the CO2 emitted during their combustion did not contribute to additional CO2 emissions.

EM also provided a study from the Joint Research Centre of the European Union, which they claimed proved that second generation biofuels achieved greenhouse gas reductions on a comparative basis. They acknowledged that the study did not specifically analyse algae. They said that algae as a source of biofuel was an emerging area of scientific analysis. However, they maintained that it was generally agreed that algae had a potential for high productivity compared to conventional biofuels.

EM provided a third-party report that concluded that the world community could slow and then reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases over the next several decades by utilising a range of public policies and current and emerging technologies. The report detailed a range of actions that could reduce emissions from key sectors, including using new and emerging technologies. It mentioned that biofuels had the potential to replace a substantial part of the petroleum now used by transport.

EM said that solving the greenhouse problem could mean many things as there were many different stabilisation scenarios being discussed by the scientific and world communities. They said that a core component of any stabilization scenario was the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; furthermore, it was generally recognised that biofuels could play a key part in this.

They provided information which they believed supported their view that fuel switching was commonly discussed among policymakers, scientists and industry as a means of helping to solve the issue of rising greenhouse gas emissions. They said the ad made no claim to the effect that advanced biofuels such as algae could achieve this result on their own.

Clearcast pointed out that the ad stated, "Algae could be converted into biofuels that we could someday run our cars on" and "We're making a big commitment to finding out just how much algae can help meet the fuel demands of the world". They said the ad made clear that the technology was still being developed. They said, in this context, viewers would understand the claim "In using algae to form biofuels, we're not competing with the food supply, and they absorb CO2, so they help solve the greenhouse problem as well", related to what the advertisers hoped the technology would achieve. They also claimed the study provided by the advertiser proved that algae produced less CO2 than hydrocarbon fuels on a comparative basis.



The ASA noted the ad referred to "unlocking the potential in algae" and considered it had made clear it was an emerging technology. Nonetheless we considered the ad made an objective claim that algae, if developed as a source of biofuel, would help solve the greenhouse problem. We noted that, by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and then re-releasing this CO2 when combusted, the technology would not add new greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Because of this we considered the technology could have a mitigation benefit. We noted the reports submitted by EM and acknowledged that many stabilisation scenarios highlighted the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of tackling the greenhouse problem.

We also noted that the ad stated "In using algae to form biofuels, were not competing with the food supply, and they absorb CO2, so they help solve the greenhouse problem as well". We considered that viewers would infer from this that it was because of the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere that using algae to form biofuels helped "solve the greenhouse problem", by acting as a carbon sink. We considered this claim went beyond stating the mitigation benefit. Because we understood that any CO2 absorbed by the feedstocks would eventually be re-released into the atmosphere, we concluded that the ad overstated the technology's total environmental impact and was therefore misleading.

The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Substantiation) and 9.5 (Environmental claims).


The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form.

Adjudication of the ASA Council (Broadcast)

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jatropha biofuel push in Ghana runs up against protests

Jatropha biofuel push in Ghana runs up against protests

30 Mar 2011 11:48

Source: alertnet // Suleiman Mustapha

ACCRA, Ghana (AlertNet) – In Ghana, whether the biofuel crop jatropha will pluck rural farmers from poverty and reduce carbon emissions or displace farmers and gobble up land that could produce food depends very much on who you ask.

For Iddrisu Issifu, who recently handed over his 10 acres to Norwegian-owned Biofuel Africa Limited for jatropha cultivation, the arrival of this drought-resistant tree that produces an oil that can be made into diesel represents a break from constant battles against the vagaries of maize production, particularly as weather patterns shift in response to climate change.

The crop switch also promises greater financial stability for his children, the 43-year-old said, since the Norwegian company has promised to buy the jatropha he cultivates.

But jatropha has arrived rather more ominously in the life of sorghum farmer Salifu Kongom. He says his local chief ordered him off his eight acres of communally-owned land at Kpatcha to another spot nearby after striking a land deal with the same Norwegian company.

"I have been farming there for several years now. How can I just leave and go and start again all over at another place? This is not fair!" the 38-year-old farmer fumed in an interview in the capital, Accra, where he gathered with other anti-jatropha campaigners to describe his experience.


Ghana is set to host one million hectares of jatropha plantations under existing agreements between the government and foreign-owned companies. The plant, grown from Brazil to the Philippines, produces an oily seed that can be crushed and the oil used to make diesel fuel. The remains of the crushed seed can then be used for fertilizer or animal feed.

Growing biofuels like jatropha is seen as a way to curb fossil fuel emissions, limit climate change and boost farmer incomes.

But the mixed reactions among farmers in Ghana parallel a wider debate about the crop's value, particularly given recent reports suggesting it is not as hardy, climate-friendly and food security-neutral a crop as once hoped.

The latest report, from Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, ActionAid and Nature Kenya, suggested this month that biofuels made from jatropha grown at a proposed plantation in Kenya's Dakatcha Woodlands could generate between two and a half to six times more greenhouse gases than a similar amount of fossil fuels.

That is because trees will have to be cut to make room for the crop and because of other emissions from the jatropha production and consumption process, the report said.


Promoters of jatropha say the plant can withstand tough, arid conditions not tolerated by food crops, so can be grown on land unsuitable for food production. But critics say it is temperature sensitive, requires fertilizer to thrive and generates a relatively low yield when grown on marginal lands. Such problems have dented its former image as a biofuel wonder crop.

The problems are one reason a noisy anti-jatropha campaign in Ghana by trade unionists and activists is gaining ground, even as investors say that backing away from jatropha would be to the country's own economic detriment, particularly with the European Union planning to double its use of biofuels by 2020.

Steinar Kolnes, the Norwegian co-owner of Biofuel Africa, says he came up empty-handed after a recent search for European investors in his Ghanaian jatropha enterprise. He has resorted to planting maize, rice and vegetables – crops that are experiencing worldwide price hikes - on some of the land his company bought for biofuel production.

He said civil society organizations in Ghana had scared away investors with "unfounded allegations" about how the land was acquired.

"We have not taken anybody's land by force," he said in a telephone interview. "We buy the lands from the chiefs and the real owners based on transparent negotiations."

He said his company has 660 hectares (1,631 acres) of jatropha under cultivation. But, faced with opposition to the company's plans in Ghana, he has used some of the remainder of land acquired for jatropha to instead plant maize and other cereals. He said the company planned to plant 2,550 hectares (6,300 acres) of maize, rice and soybeans each year, and expected to generate between 6,000 and 8,000 tons of food a year.


Environmental activists say they fear growth in jatropha production will rob Ghana of biodiversity by reducing the number of crops grown, and will lead to greater use of farm chemicals.

"We are apprehensive of the danger associated with … land acquisition for large-scale plantations, especially jatropha for bio-fuel production in the country, said David Eli, chairman of Ghana's Food Security Policy Advocacy Network (FoodSPAN).

"This trend is not healthy for the fight against food insecurity, environmental degradation and poverty in the country," he said.
Similarly, representatives of Ghana's General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) worry that the sale of 10,000 hectares of maize cropland to Biofuel Africa Limited at Jimle/Kpacha, in the Yendi District of Ghana's Northern region, will dent the country's food production and entice more chiefs to sell farmland for biofuel production.

GAWU General Secretary Kingsley offei-Nkansah said Kusawgu in the Central Gonja region and Makango in the Gonja East district, also were at risk of losing arable land to biofuel production at a time of rising food prices. Both regions are in the north of Ghana.

Campaigners see the recent creation of jatropha plantations in Togo, Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast and Niger as a threat to food production in the region generally.

"We do not understand how our governments can willingly take our food, land and water to meet the fuel luxuries of the wealthy in the North, when we already face problems of food security and environmental destruction at home", said Anna Antwie of ActionAid Ghana.

Ghana's push into biofuels presents a risk that indigenous crop and grazing systems will be lost to jatropha monocultures, she said.

Farmers, however, remain divided about the benefits of jatropha production, suggesting the debate in Ghana is far from over.

Even as Kongom, a communal farmer, protests the loss of his land, Issifu, who sold his land, is celebrating the end of his food-producing years and a move into jatropha production thanks to foreign investors.

"Nowadays, we do not get good prices for our farm produce," he said. That makes jatropha a more attractive option, he said.

Suleiman Mustapha is a business journalist based in Accra. This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.


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American groups call on Scottish Government to reject biomass plans

American groups call on Scottish Government to reject biomass plans

30 March 2011

A coalition of American environmental and forestry groups have accused a company behind plans to source North American wood for biomass power stations in Scotland of 'greenwash' in a letter to the Scottish Government.

In an open letter to the Scottish Government, the groups argue that Forth Energy's proposed plants in Leith, Tayside, Grangemouth and Rosyth would require 3.6m tonnes of wood per year from Florida alone, resulting in serious pressure on US forests.

They also contest Forth Energy's claim to use certified, sustainable forests. The Scottish plants would have to rely on the American industry-led 'Sustainable Forestry Initiative' (SFI) because no exporter in Florida is certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council. The SFI scheme was set up by the American Pulp and Paper Association, and the environment groups argue it is fatally flawed.

The letter is signed by signed by Biofuelwatch/Energy Justice Network, Biomass Accountability Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Dogwood Alliance, Friends of the Earth US, and Save Americas Forests.

The letter reads:
"Given the massive quantities of wood – most of which will be imported from our forests - that Forth Energy facilities would burn, the inefficiency of biomass electricity generation, the emerging science indicating that bioelectricity is not necessarily 'carbon neutral' or 'clean', the human health impacts of emissions, and the unreliability of SFI forest certification schemes – we call on the Scottish Government to reject Forth Energy's proposed biomass electricity facilities in Scotland."

Friends of the Earth spokesperson Francis Stuart said: "We already know that Forth Energy's proposals don't stack up in the Scottish context because they plan to burn wood in an incredibly inefficient manner, for electricity rather than heat. This new evidence from across the Atlantic simply compounds the case against these damaging developments."


Notes to Editors

The open letter signed by Biofuelwatch/Energy Justice Network, Biomass Accountability Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Dogwood Alliance, Friends of the Earth US, and Save Americas Forests can be downloaded from here:

[For the letter, see  and for an article in the Scotsman about it  ]  

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E15 blend available in US soon

Gasoline With Higher Ethanol Blend Available In U.S. Soon

Date: 14-Mar-11
Country: USA
Author: Tom Doggett

Gasoline containing up to 15 percent ethanol should be available for the coming summer driving season as the government moves to finalize labeling and other issues for the new motor fuel.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved in January raising the amount of ethanol in gasoline to 15 percent for newer cars and trucks from 10 percent, a ruling welcomed by the industry and by farmers who supply the corn to make the fuel.
The government will finalize in a few months the labels on the gasoline pumps, which are designed to protect consumers from using the fuel in unapproved engines, the head of the EPA told Congress on Thursday.

"We are now in the process of completing a rule that will establish national labeling," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. "We expect to issue a final rule in the next few months."

Jackson also said the EPA will officially register E15 this spring, which is required under the Clean Air Act before the fuel can be sold.

The agency recently received emissions and health information to support the registration application for E15. "We expect to complete our review of that information in two to three months," she said.

That means E15 will likely be available nationwide this summer, according to industry officials. Some service stations will probably continue selling E10 gasoline during the transition to E15 this summer, which would require separate storage tanks for the two fuels or special blender pumps.

Critics say boosting the amount of ethanol in gasoline will cause already high corn prices to rise further and reduce already thin stocks for the grain.
Growth Energy, an ethanol trade group, said putting E15 into the market will help consumers suffering from soaring gasoline prices.

"Lifting the regulatory barriers preventing higher blends of U.S.-made ethanol from getting into the pump would start to push gas prices down right away," said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis.

E15 is approved vehicles built since 2001 and there are now more than 150 million cars and trucks on the road that could use it, which represents 74 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption.

By 2014, the EPA estimates E15 will be used in more than 187 million vehicles that will account for 85 percent of gasoline demand.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

© Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved

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EU strategy: "40 percent of aviation fuel from sustainable biofuels"

Transport To Remain Big Polluter Under New EU Plan

Date: 29-Mar-11
Country: BELGIUM
Author: Pete Harrison and Eva Dou

Transport To Remain Big Polluter Under New EU Plan Photo: Reuters/Thierry Roge
European Union Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas addresses a news conference on the Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area, in Brussels March 28, 2011.
Photo: Reuters/Thierry Roge

Europe's transport chief called for a shift away from fossil fuels on Monday to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect the economy from oil price spikes, but critics said his strategy lacked meaningful action.
EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said in a strategy paper that greenhouse gas emissions from transport should be cut to about a fifth below current levels by 2030, and to 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

In the long term, that means eliminating oil-fueled motor cars from cities, shifting half of road freight onto trains and barges, and getting around 40 percent of aviation fuel from sustainable biofuels.

The economic crisis has made the objective even more pressing, given that the EU spends around 210 billion euros ($295 billion) a year on importing oil.
"Trains, planes and ships last for decades," Kallas told reporters. "The choices made today will determine the shape of transport in 2050, and that's why we are acting now to achieve a transformation."

However, most of the action is postponed for later.
The 2030 goal of a 20 percent cut in emissions is based on cuts from recent levels, but it fails even to cancel out a rise of about a third since 1990, which was mainly caused by increasing car ownership and cheaper flights.

Compared to the 1990 baseline, which the EU uses for nearly all its other measurements of emissions, Kallas' target actually amounts to an 8 percent increase.
"This Commission paper blatantly passes the buck to the next generation," said Franziska Achterberg of Greenpeace.

"The transport sector will become Europe's biggest source of carbon emissions," she added. "This strategy will do nothing to protect the EU from volatile oil prices."

Kallas countered that he had to strike a difficult balance.
"Freedom to travel is a basic right for our citizens, and is critical to the development of Europe's business sector -- curbing mobility is not an option," he told reporters.

Refining industry group Europia welcomed that stance.
"Crude oil derived products, according to independent sources like the International Energy Agency, will continue to play an important role for decades to come," it said in a statement.

Airports group ACI Europe was also happy that mobility would not be curbed, but green transport campaigners T&E said aviation should not be let off the hook.

"This is a manifesto for inaction," said T&E's Jos Dings. "The only concrete action the Commission proposes within its current mandate (2010-14) is to expand airport capacity, which will make the headline targets even harder to reach."
A separate report on Monday highlighted the EU's rapid success in curbing emissions from passenger cars, even with modest goals.

Toyota has nearly reached its 2015 fuel-efficiency target with roughly four years to spare, and Portugal's car market is already there, the report said.
(Editing by Rex Merrifield)

© Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved

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EU Finds U.S. Evasion Of Biodiesel Tax: Sources

EU Finds U.S. Evasion Of Biodiesel Tax: Sources

Date: 28-Mar-11
Country: BELGIUM
Author: Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck

The European Union executive plans to widen punitive import taxes on U.S. biodiesel and extend them to Canada, citing evidence of illegal tariff evasion, people familiar with the case said on Friday.

Certain biodiesel blends entering the EU from Canada and all U.S. blends will face tariffs of up to more than 400 euros ($566.4) per tone of biodiesel according to initial European Commission plans, the sources told Reuters.

The plan, which needs approval from EU governments, highlights the intensifying battle to clinch a slice of a renewable energy market that has been growing amid global efforts to fight climate change.

It follows a year of investigations and seizures of biodiesel shipments suspected as originating from the United States but labeled as coming from other countries' ports.

The EU imposed tariffs on U.S. diesel blends containing at least one in four parts of biodiesel in 2009, after it found U.S. exporters benefited from illegal subsidies and sold their blends to Europe at below cost, hurting EU producers.
The Commission now says it has evidence of illegal transshipments via Canada and that U.S. exporters switched to weaker biodiesel blends, hurting EU producers, according to the sources.

If endorsed by EU governments, the Commission's plan could result in extended duties launching in November 2011 and staying in place until 2014.
U.S. exports to the EU plummeted in 2009 to less than 400,000 tones from 1.5 million tones in 2008. At the same time, EU data shows Canadian sales to the EU soared to more than 140,000 tones in 2009, from about 1,700 tones in 2008 - a move Canada has attributed to growing EU demand and a supply gap left by the United States.

Singapore, which had also been investigated as a potential transhipment port for U.S. biodiesel, will be exempt from duties under the plan, the sources said.
Canadian exporters BIOX Corp and Rothsay Biodiesel, affiliated to Maple Leaf Foods Inc, are to be exempted under the plan, the sources said.

"The Commission found the two companies were able to prove they were not involved in circumvention," said one source.

Yet the inclusion of Canadian exports is likely to sour talks for a multi-billion dollar trade deal between the EU and Canada already troubled by EU environmental standards.

The plan -- on which EU industry, U.S. and Canadian exporters and later EU governments must comment -- is likely also to open debate on the EU's strategy for sourcing fuel from renewable sources and questions on what measures are allowed under EU law to battle circumvention.

U.S. and Canadian biodiesel industry groups could not be reached for comment.
(Editing by James Jukwey and David Gregorio)

© Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Are Biofuels Contributing to Higher Food Prices?

In 2008, many economists were surprised by the rising prices of maize, rice, wheat and petroleum, all of which tripled in real terms. Prices came down, but ever since, it's been a rocky road.

Blame part of it on an increase in demand and natural disasters. Floods in Australia, drought in Argentina, fires in Russia, and frost damage in the U.S. and Europe contributed to the spike in food prices in December 2010, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). These events resulted in export bans and short-term speculation, causing riots and political instability in more than 30 countries worldwide.

But part of the problem derives from ethanol production. In the U.S., 40% of corn production from food and feed is used for ethanol fuel production, putting stress on corn supplies in a year when stocks are at the lowest level in decades. People living in the 52 high-risk countries -- 750 million of them already malnourished -- rely on 83 billion tons of imported food a year, much of it corn, soybeans and wheat exported by the United States.

The problem is particularly acute in developing nations. "Economically, prices have a small impact on the food prices in the U.S., though this cannot be said for the developing countries," said Sheila Karpf, legislative and policy analyst at the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

More than $3 of every $4 in tax credits the U.S. federal government provides for renewable energy goes to corn ethanol.

"The U.S. stubbornly continues to subsidize corn ethanol, even as the ripple effects of burning our food for fuel are felt by citizens worldwide," she added.

"Corn prices are higher than they'd be if we didn't have the biofuel industry. People who primarily subsist on corn make $2 a day or less and spend 60% of their budget on food and are seriously hurt by higher prices," said Walter P. Falcon, deputy director of the Food Security and the Environment Program and Farnsworth professor of International Agricultural Policy at Stanford University.

Exports for Biofuels

A typical biofuel plant consumes about 50,000 barrels of corn daily or 20 million bushels annually, representing 5% of the U.S. oil consumption for one day. In other words, the U.S. is using almost 20% of its corn for biofuel, producing about 22.40 billion liters of ethanol.

Over the last two years, the amount of corn fed to U.S. livestock fell by 3 million metric tons, while corn shipments to ethanol producers grew by 33 million tons.

"The U.S. is a large exporter of corn and much of what we normally exported is now used for ethanol production," said Falcon. There has also been "a serious decline in investments in agricultural research and technology" over the past two decades, he added.

"The U.S. misestimated corn stocks. When the ratio of stock to use goes below 20%, the market doesn't have enough flexibility, and we are now substantially below that ratio," Falcon said.

Biofuels makers often stress that they use a mere 3% of the global grain supply. Still, the additional demand causes more profound ripples in the price of staples. A rise in prices can be further magnified by perceptions and fears.

"People -- for example, Asian consumers -- buy a second bag of rice, fearing that prices are rising," noted Falcon.

An option to tackle the problem of hunger could be addressed by introducing GMOs, but, as Karpf stressed, "biotechnology is not bad, but [it should not be pursued] at the expense of [harming] the environment to increase yields."

She pointed out that the environment is suffering from fertilizers, soil erosion, natural weather disasters and other problems. Sustainable farming seems a more appropriate way, she suggests. Nonetheless, sustainable farming -- at the volumes of food required to feed the growing global population -- is challenging.

The silver lining could be found in history and the rhythms of commodity pricing. Once perceptions fade, prices return to something akin to stability. Prices are higher, but the acceleration and the panic they can cause subside.

"I don't see a decline in the real prices. I see leveling off, but not a rise," Falcon said.


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Recent PQs: UCO

Lord Bradshaw (Liberal Democrat)

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in light of the estimate by the UK Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance that there is the potential to produce ten times current volumes of biodiesels from used cooking oil, what proposals they have to encourage the recycling of used cooking oil into biodiesel.

Lord Marland (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Energy and Climate Change; Conservative)

The Government are interested in the potential of used cooking oil to generate renewable energy and welcome evidence from the UK Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance. This is being considered alongside other evidence to determine the policy and tariffs for bioliquids under renewable energy incentives.

The renewable energy directive provides that the contribution of biofuels from waste towards national transport targets, including used cooking oil (UCO), are double counted. The Department for Transport is currently consulting on proposals to amend the renewable transport fuel obligation (RTFO). The proposed amendment will provide double support to biofuels from waste, including UCO (currently one renewable transport certificate is awarded per litre of biofuel).

Biodiesel will be supported under the renewables obligation (RO) from April 2011.

Bioliquids are being considered for inclusion in the renewable heat incentive in 2012.

The supply of UCO is currently encouraged by a duty differential. The rate of excise duty for biodiesel produced from UCO is 20 pence per litre less than the rate of duty for ultra low sulphur diesel. This 20 pence tax differential was introduced on 1 April 2010 and is set to run until April 2012.

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Biofuels cited in outlook for food price gains

Biofuels cited in outlook for food price gains

Mar 28, 2011
by Bob Tippee, Editor

"Rising Prices on the Menu," says the title of an article in an International Monetary Fund magazine that predicts an extended increase in the price of food.

Until recently, food prices were historically low. In 1977-79 dollars, an IMF global index of food prices even now is about where it was in the Great Depression. It was much higher in 1920 and since then has followed downward-trending cycles of 30-40 years' duration.

The latest low point on the trend line occurred in 2000-01.

"Since the turn of the century," says the article in IMF's Finance & Development, "food prices have been rising steadily—except for declines during the global financial crisis in late 2008 and early 2009—and this suggests that these increases are a trend and don't just reflect temporary factors."

The main explanation offered by Advisor Thomas Helbling and Economist Shaun Roache of IMF's Research Department is dietary improvement in emerging and developing economies. People with growing incomes eat more protein and relatively less staple grain. The change increases claims on agricultural resources, pushing up prices.

Then there's what Helbling and Roache call "the boom in biofuels." Last year, fuel ethanol claimed 15% of the global corn crop. Cane sugar, palm kernels, and rapeseed increasingly find their ways into biofuels.

Rising oil and gas prices push up food prices, too, the authors note, adding, "Biofuels have likely strengthened this link."

Helbling and Roache expect an easing of a food-price surge that began last year after a series of weather-related shocks to supply. But the trend will continue.

"The upward trend in prices is unlikely to reverse soon because the supply adjustment to the structural increases in demand for major food commodities will take time," the authors say. Inevitably, the burden falls most heavily on poor people. It probably helped destabilize North Africa and the Middle East.

Yet governments continue to encourage the burning of food. This is one of the colossal follies of the age.


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Friday, March 25, 2011

Palm oil giants target Africa in 'land grab' following Indonesia deforestation ban

BPalm oil giants target Africa in 'land grab' following Indonesia deforestation ban

Tom Levitt

25th March, 2011

Indonesia's move to bring in a two-year moratorium on new palm oil plantations to protect its remaining rainforests has seen agribusiness giants like Sime Darby switch expansion plans to Cameroon, Ghana and Liberia

The sudden upsurge in land deals by palm oil companies in Africa could lead to large-scale deforestation and loss of farmland by local communities, NGOs and environmental groups in Africa have told the Ecologist.

The world's largest palm oil producer Indonesia is due to implement a two-year ban on granting new concessions of land to plantation companies in forest areas. There are also restrictions on the availability of land in Malaysia. This has led companies like Sime Darby, which has more than half a million hectares of palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia, to look elsewhere.

Sime Darby - reported to be the largest palm oil producer in the world - has leased 220,000 hectares of land in Liberia and is considering buying a further 300,000 hectares for palm oil plantations in Cameroon. Despite the Indonesian ban, it still wants to acquire 1 million hectares of plantation land worldwide by 2015. Other rival palm oil giants like Sinar Mar, Olam International and Wilmar International are also tying up land deals in Liberia, Gabon and Ghana.

For Sime Darby at least, the ambition is to target the lucrative European markets, particularly for biofuels. It recently announced plans to build aprocessing plant in the South of France, bringing palm oil from its new plantations in Liberia.

However, Friends of the Earth say at least two of the areas in Liberia - Gbarpolu and Bong - where the company has leased land are currently heavily forested and include virgin rainforest.

Cameroon problems

In Cameroon, campaigners have admitted to having strong reservations about Sime Darby's plans to lease land for palm oil plantations. Samuel Nguiffo, from the Centre for Environment and Development (CED), says even if they only develop on degraded forest, the deal is likely to involve farmland being taken away from local communities. 

'Degraded natural forests are located next to villages, and are considered as traditional land and "reserve" for the future expansion of communities' farmland. But according to the State law (which prevails), the State owns part of the land, and is cutodian of the rest of the land. The malaysian company [Sime Darby] will therefore enter a deal with the State, and not with the communities, but will be taking what is still considered by the communities as their traditional land, according to their customs,' he says.

Nguiffo believes the land has more value in terms of sustaining local livelihood but says the government will push hard for a deal, regardless of the long-term consequences for the country's food security. 'The purpose of this company will be to use the land in Cameroon to produce crops for exports, while Cameroon has still not conquered its food sovereignety.

'If the policies are established to promote the development of food crops in Cameroon, land scarcity will quickly exacerbate. The hunger crisis in 2008 in Cameroon showed what the future could look like if we don't collectively consider as an urgent matter the need to give the priority to regaining our food sovereignety over promoting land concessions to foreign companies,' he says. 

The UN's special rapporteur for right to food Oliver De Schutter says companies were 'filling the void' from a lack of government investment in agriculture in Africa. He also expressed concerns that the continent was being seen as a 'easy target' for cheap land deals. 'At the moment they [Cameroon and others] are competing to attract investments and so give as good a deal as possible and have a poor bargaining positions that don't bring rural investments.' 

This was backed up by a report into land grabbing in Africa from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in February 2011. It found agribusinesses as well as government agencies and investment funds were acquiring long-term rights to large areas of land and in some cases priority rights over water in exchange for little public revenue and vague promises of investment and jobs. 

It said local people were also often excluded from any deals. 'Land deal negotiations are unfolding fast and behind closed doors' the gap between legality (whereby the government may formally own the land and freely allocate it to investors) and legitimacy (whereby local people feel the land they have used for generations is theirs) exposes local groups to the risk of dispossession and investors to that of contestation.'


Rachel Smolker
Biofuelwatch/Energy Justice Network
802.482.2848 (o)
802.735 7794 (m)
skype: Rachel Smolker

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Biofuels, Mass Evictions and Violence Build on the Legacy of the 1978 Panzos Massacre in Guatemala

Biofuels, Mass Evictions and Violence Build on the Legacy of the 1978
Panzos Massacre in Guatemala
Published: 23 Mar 2011
Posted in: IDB | World Bank
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Upside Down World | 23 March 2011

Written by Annie Bird

On March 15, 16 and 17, hundreds of security officers from the
Guatemalan National Civil Police, Army and Anti-riot Squads entered 14
small Maya Qeqchi villages in the municipality of Panzos, Alta
Verapaz, shooting live ammunition and dispersing tear gas.

Antonio Beb Ac, killed in the community of Miralvalle. Photo by
campesino, land rights groups in Polochic Valley.
Reports from the region indicate that police and soldiers were
followed by masked and armed employees of the Chabil Utzaj sugar cane
company, who destroyed homes and crops. Families pleaded, to no
avail, with plantation 'owners' and State authorities to spare the
crops because they were close to harvest and families would face
starvation without their harvest.

In the first community, Aguas Calientes, 72 families awoke at 5 a.m.
surrounded by troops. They were given an hour to gather possessions
and food. They begged for more time to gather what crops they could,
but were not allowed. The day before, on March 14, a delegation from
the community had attended a government sponsored negotiation meeting
with farm 'owners' in Guatemala City, and were given no notice of the
pending eviction. Those too slow in the scramble to leave were
attacked with violence, resulting in five injured and four
hospitalized. Families with registered land titles in a neighboring
farm were also attacked.

The next community, of 32 families, was Miralvalle. The eviction began
at approximately 10 a.m., and proceeded in a similar manner. Witnesses
report that Antonio Beb Ac, a 35-year-old father of three, was shot in
the head by anti-riot troops, though justice system authorities,
notoriously corrupt in this region of the country, claim he was killed
by a rock.

Evictions continued the evening of March 16 in the community of
Quinich. On March 17 reports indicate that evictions occured in Semau,
Finca Parana, Tinajas, San Miguelito, Los Recuerdos, Bella Flor, La
Isla, Santa Rosa, San Paolo, Rio Frio, El Rodeo and 8 de Agosto.
Thousands of people, including thousands of children, are camped out
many on the side of the roads with no shelter or food, in the rain.


This is not the first time the landholders who claim to own the land
from which these communities are being evicted have called out the
armed forces against the communities.

During the military governments ushered in by the 1954 CIA-sponsored
coup, a handful of non-Qeqchi families gained access to land and land
titles in the fertile Polochic Valley where Panzos is located, in
large part through a combination of violence and fraud. The
communities did not accept the validity of these claims, and made
every effort they could, under military governments, to have their
land and labor rights recognized.

One man, Flavio Monzon, who was named as mayor in 1954 by the military
government and remained in office for 20 years, is reported by
community leaders to have amassed approximately 200,000 acres of land
while acting as mayor, including much of the area being evicted today.

The historical tension between the large landholders and the Qeqchi
communities culminated in 1978 when, according to testimonies, the
mayor and landholders convoked communities to a meeting in the town
square on May 29. On approximately May 24, a contingent of 30
soldiers, invited by the mayor and landholders, occupied the municipal
hall. Early in the morning on May 29, workers hired by plantation
owner Flavio Monzon used a tractor to dig a large hole in the
Municipal cemetery.

By 9:00 a.m., hundreds of people from the summoned communities had
arrived in the town square of Panzos, to find it surrounded by
soldiers and police. The army was stationed around the square and on
the roofs of the buildings surrounding it. They had blocked all the
exits. At the mayor's signal, they opened fire on the unarmed crowd.
Soldiers went after those who tried to escape one-by-one to kill them.
Monzon's hired workers then used the municipal truck to carry at least
three loads of bodies to the cemetery and dump them in the hole they
had prepared beforehand. The United Nations-sponsored Commission for
Historical Clarification registered 53 people killed that day. Local
people say there were actually many more killed and injured.

Extreme repression continued, with constant kidnappings, torture and
extrajudicial executions of community leaders throughout the late
1970s and 1980s. Mass graves are reported in the area where the forced
evictions are today occurring, and a torture center used by the
military was located that was evicted, Las Tinajas.

Following the Panzos massacre and the ensuing extreme repression,
communities abandoned their homes and fled into the mountains, the
Sierra de las Minas, surviving unimaginable hardship.


Poor campesinos, from nearby communities, were paid by the "Chabil
Utzaj" company to burn homes of poor campesinos, as part of the
illegal evictions. Photo by campesino, land rights groups in Polochic
Between 1985 and 2005 the situation slowly improved as the nation
transitioned into ostensible "civilian" rule, as the international
community accompanied the peace process, ending the 36-year armed
conflict in 1996. Communities returned to farming lands some had fled
from during "the violence."

Under the framework of the peace accords, a national fund for land was
created to provide access to credit to allow rural communities to buy
land. Based on a model being implemented throughout Latin America with
the goal of facilitating stable land markets, the fund was highly
problematic. Nonetheless it was the only apparent alternative for
thousands of communities seeking secure tenure of their land.

Throughout the Polochic Valley dozens of communities sent in their
paperwork, requesting to buy lands from the land "owners." By the mid
2000's dozens of communities believed they were on the brink of
gaining security over their lands, when the possibility of massive
agri-business profits appeared in the form of biofuels.

Though sugar cane and palm oil producers may argue that their
production is for human consumption, the current investment in these
sectors is geared toward generating sufficient production to supply
the biofuel markets expected to skyrocket as climate change mitigation
strategies mandate consumption and subsidize production of biofuels.


In 2006, Carlos Widmann, brother-in-law of then recently-elected
president Oscar Berger and owner of the sugar cane refinery Ingenio
Guadalupe, secured loans totaling $31 million from the Central
American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) (a smaller version of
the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank), with which he
moved his refinery operation across the country from the traditional
sugar lands of the south-west Coast to the Polochic Valley, where the
refinery was renamed Chabil Utzaj.


The Widmann family was not a traditional landholder in the Polochic,
but Widmann brokered deals with the landholders to rent and then
allegedly buy the farms. Mass evictions of communities began, in what
the Qeqchi farmers describe as being just like the 1980s, when
communities were forced to flee to the mountains. Many again were
displaced into terrible conditions in the Sierra de las Minas, like in
the 1980s.

Between 1998 and 2006, a large landholding family in Polochic of
German descent, the Maegli's, experimented with African Palm oil
production, and by 2006 had 5,000 hectares under palm fruit production
in Alta Verapaz, and then began rapidly expanding plantations, and
therefore also illegally, forcibly displacing small farmers.

Though studies should be undertaken, it was obvious to observers that
forests were significantly impacted by this displacement as hungry
families were forced to cultivate forest lands either bordering or
within the Sierra de las Minas biosphere.

The new palm and sugar cane plantations needed large scale irrigation.
Carlos Widmann and his Chabil Utzaj company literally re-routed the
Polochic river while the palm oil producers reportedly changed
existing irrigation systems connected to tributaries of the Polochic,
wreaking massive havoc throughout the region, particularly due to the
re-routing of the river.

Each year since 2006 immense extensions of land have been flooded as
the river seeks to return to its natural course, flooding out crops
and even flooding portions of the large town of Teleman. The river
often deposits 60cm or more of sand on top of large expanses of
formerly agricultural lands outside of the cane and palm plantations,
strangling all crops and trees. Small farmers throughout the region
have been devastated, and ecosystems in the Polochic River and Izabal
Lake have been devastated. People have been killed crossing the river.

In late 2009, the Widmann sugar cane operation apparently collapsed,
and the lands were abandoned. The reasons are not clear. Mayan Qeqchi
communities, most having lived and worked (as almost slave-labour) for
generations on these lands, then returned to farm the lands, building
huts and sowing subsistence, survival crops. In August 2010 newspapers
reported that lands and equipment belonging to Chabil Utzaj were to be
auctioned by a Guatemalan bank, Banco Industrial, which managed a
trust fund set up to facilitate CABEI funds for Chabil Utzaj.

However, a solution was negotiated between Chabil Utzaj and CABEI, in
which at the urging of the bank Chabil Utzaj brought on new investors
to recapitalize the company. In the region rumors are circulating that
cane plantations would be converted to African palm.

In February 2011, local radio stations ran advertisements apparently
from Chabil Utzaj calling on former cane workers to illegally evict
the families farming the former cane plantations.


Small farmers in the Polochic live from harvest to harvest. When the
harvest is not good, families know they must pass a few weeks when
food will be scarce because they must buy or forage for it. When a
harvest is lost completely, like when the company destroys their crops
by provoking flooding, chopping down crops or kicking families off
lands, they face starvation conditions, now rampant in one of
Guatemala's most fertile river valleys.

Recent studies have demonstrated that virtually all the families in
the villages affected by the introduction of biofuel production spend
significant periods of time feeding five to seven people with only
five pounds of corn a week, and nothing else.

Claims that the production of biofuel crops (African palm, sugar)
generates jobs are false and misleading. While a large number of jobs
are generated for labor during harvest, the cane company brought in
outside seasonal labors. One reliable source reported that workers had
been brought in from Nicaragua.

Most significantly, the only study of production patterns in the
region found that other cash crops produced, such as chile and okra,
as well as corn and beans, all require much more intense labor than
cane or palm, often double or triple work input per land unit, and in
this way maintain much higher and more constant employment levels.
These crops also contribute to food security and are cultivated by
small producers, while the economic benefits are distributed more
equitably. This clearly demonstrates that palm and cane plantations
reduce employment, income and food security, even though they may
raise the national Gross Domestic Product.


Biofuels, however, are apparently more profitable for large plantation
'owners,' in part because they are being subsidized by Clean
Development Mechanism and favorable loans from multilateral
development banks.

Between 2006 and today, a handful of cane and palm oil producers have
received funding from the CABEI, and the IDB's (Inter-American
Development Bank) private sector lending agency, the Inter-American
Investment Corporation. In May 2007, the IDB held its Annual General
Meeting in Guatemala City, promising financing for biofuel production
through funding projects that had been in the planning for several

The Ingenio Magdelena, like the Ingenio Guadelupe, received CABEI
funds. The Pantaleon sugar operation, of which the Widmann family is a
large shareholder, benefitted from an IDB loan.

Given that both the CABIE and the IDB are government-sponsored and -
controlled funding agencies, the fact that close relatives of the then
president benefit from these resources raises red flags of corruption
and nepotisim. Carlos Widmann's sister was the First Lady, and
Widmann's nephew, son of then President Berger, was on the board of
the Guatemalan bank that facilitated the more than $30 million in
CABEI funds.


Destruction of homes in the community of Quinich. Photo by campesino,
land rights groups in Polochic Valley.
But the wealthy and powerful in Guatemala are not the only
beneficiaries of the enormous windfalls from the massive public
spending on market incentives for initiatives purportedly aimed at
curbing climate change or from funding from multinational, public
development banks.

Central American corporations are taking on business partners from
throughout the region, and stock and bond holders in the US, Europe,
the Middle East and Asia are profiting from this new 'emerging market.'

In 2006, the CABEI, for just the second time in its existence, issued
publically traded bonds, placing $200 million worth on the New York
market. Since 2006, CABEI has embarked on an aggressive strategy of
capitalizing the bank with series of bond releases sold in the US,
Europe and Asia, while prioritizing so called "renewable" energy
investments like biofuels.

Multilateral banks have participated in creating a burgeoning new
array of "mezzanine" investment funds, in which public funds from the
WB and the IDB provide seed capital for investment funds deposited
with private investment corporations used to levy private sector
investment in the funds, which in turn finances a range of private
sector investments in infrastructure and "renewable" energy.

For example, the Central America Mezzanine Infrastructure Fund,
created in 2005 with WB and IDB investments, was deposited with the
Bahrain based "EMP" investments which was later purchased by a Brunai
based investment firm.

In January 2009, the WB and IDB collaborated to create the Latin
American Capital Management LLC (LACAM), managed by Reservoir Capital
Group, described as managers of university endowments and individual

LACAM is dedicated to sugar cane financing!


The "Clean Development Mechanism", managed by the United Nations
Framework Convention for Climate Change, has certified carbon
emissions reduction credits for projects undertaken by cane and palm
oil companies to reduce their emissions or generate electricity.

The Extractora del Atlantico palm oil refinery received CDM
certification in April 2008; the Agroamerica palm oil plant in April
2009; the Ingenio Magdalena cane mill in July 2009; the INDESA palm
oil plant in July 2009; and the Olmeca palm oil plant in November 2009.

Agroamerica and INDESA produce palm oil from the Polochic Valley. In
August 2010, INDESA received certification from the Round Table on
Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), certifying it as being an ecologically
sustainable product.

RSPO certification is being strongly promoted by the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF) and the WB.

In recognition that biofuel production is devastating environments and
communities around the world, the WB and the IDB put a freeze on
biofuel loans while they prepared sector strategies. RSPO is seen as
a "safeguard" which can separate out the environmentally friendly palm
oil; experience in the Polochic Valley shows RSPO is nothing more than

The WB plans to present its palm oil strategy in this month. In May
2010 they held "stakeholder consultations" in Costa Rica with palm oil
producers and NGOs. Agroamerica, a Polochic Valley palm oil producer,
among other Guatemalan palm oil producers such as Palmas del Ixcan and
Agroindustrias Hame, participated. It seems that Polochic Valley palm
oil producers are poised to benefit from the WB's private sector
funding agency, the International Finance Corporation.

Defensores de la Naturaleza, a highly criticized environmental NGO
that "administers" the Sierra de las Minas biosphere, receives funding
from WWF and Conservation International. As part of the "payment for
environmental services" scheme they also receive funding from palm oil

USAID sponsored a project to promote "Ecotourism" involving the
Defensores de la Naturaleza and INDESA.

Under the new REDD+ initiative, advanced in the Copenhagen COP16
summit, palm oil plantations may be eligible to earn carbon capture
credits. In Copenhagen, agreements were advanced to define mandatory
national percentages of fossil fuel replacement by biofuels, and for
the creation of multinational public funding for technology
conversion, which could generate trillions of dollars of potential
markets for northern corporations.

These measures will stimulate the expansion of biofuel production on
unprecedented levels and strengthen already politically powerful
financial and corporate interests in biofuels, some of which appear to
have little concern for the real environmental, or human, impacts of
biofuel production.

The environmental damages by cane and palm production are already
being reported around the world. In the Polochic valley the damages
from the destruction of wetlands, the rerouting of the Polochic River
and the displacement of families has not been quantified, but
observers and communities alike know it is enormous. The corporations
earning money through the Clean Development Mechanism and enjoying
access to public funds are generating environmental destruction and
climate change, not curbing it. It also appears that climate change
funds attract investors to initiate these environmentally destructive


How communities, who have lived for generations on their lands, are
today called 'land invaders' and are being charged with trumped up
crimes of land usurpation and then brutally evicted by the military,
police and private security forces, is the result of a historical
process enabled by violence and racism, international investment and
by US political and military intervention, and it is ongoing.

In the late 1880s, the Guatemalan government created the National Land
Registry. It is not a coincidence that this occurred as the government
was promoting international investment to try to boost exports. Around
the same time the Guatemalan national army was formed, and from the
beginning its focus was controlling the population of Guatemala,
enforcing land grants, not defending borders.

The Land Registry allowed people, or communities with existing land
titles, most of which had been granted by the Spanish crown prior to
Guatemalan independence in 1821, to register them with a centralized
national authority. It was established that any lands not registered
with the Land Registry were considered to be 'baldios,' essentially
property of the nation. Anyone could stake a claim on the land by
having it measured, and paying a fee to the government. However, laws
stipulated that if someone was already using the land, they had prior
rights. Over the ensuing years these rights were often ignored,
especially in the fertile Polochic valley.

The creation of the Land Registry ushered in a land rush in which
outsiders came into the Polochic valley, and by 1915 had claimed over
300,000 acres of land. The Mayan Qeqchi communities, which had been
farming the area, became the plantation laborers, following the
colonial pattern that tied indigenous laborers to land grants in slave-
like conditions.

Large tracts were given to German settlers to begin large scale
cultivation of coffee and to US owned banana plantations. The coffee
and banana planters had a strong presence, which was followed by an
influx of mixed Spanish descent immigrants who also took control of
land, usually by a combination of force and fraud.

The 1940s and 1950s were a turning point in the Polochic valley. Many
of the descendants of the German planters were expelled during World
War II, due to a perceived allegiance to Nazi Germany. The land
reform program initiated during Guatemala's ten year reformist
government (1944-1954), and a banana blight, impelled United Fruit
Company to leave the area.

From the 1950s to the 1980s, Mayan Qeqchi communities and landholders
of mixed Spanish and German descent struggled for control of the
fertile flatlands in the valley. During most of that time a man named
Flavio Monzon served as mayor of Panzos, first named in 1954 by the
bloody regime ushered in by the CIA sponsored invasion. During the
20 years he acted as mayor, he and other non Qeqchi families amassed
massive landholdings using a combination of fraud and violence.

Elders today describe how, while Mayor, Flavio Monzon offered to help
communities obtain registered land titles, they brought him the
documentation they had to back up their land rights, and the lands
then appeared registered in his name. Sources claim Monzon left
office with title to approximately 200,000 acres of land.

During the 1970s, land rights and agricultural worker rights movements
grew in Panzos and across Guatemala. By the end of the 1970s, Monzon
had turned over the Mayors' office to Walter Overdick. According to
investigations and testimonies from community members, Monzon then
took the lead in organizing landholders (of which he was now a major
landowner), in close coordination with the Mayor, to put an end to the
demands for land titles and better working conditions on plantations.


Rights Action is providing emergency, humanitarian funds via local
Mayan Qeqchi groups we have long supported and worked with, to respond
to the food and shelter needs of the forcibly evicted people.

To Make a tax-charitable donation, make check payable to "Rights
Action" and mail to:

UNITED STATES: Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887
CANADA: 552 - 351 Queen St. E, Toronto ON, M5A-1T8

go to: (Credit card donations can be done
FOR DONATION OF STOCK: contact This e-mail
address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled
to view it . (Stock donations can be done anonymously - have your
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Source: Upside Down World


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South Africas Agrofuels Industry. A non-starter?

  "South Africas Agrofuels Industry. A non-starter?" , Briefing by the African Centre for Biosafety
This paper provides a brief overview of the biofuels industry in the context of the South African government's 2008 policy. Our key finding is that the large-scale biofuels industry has stagnated almost to the point of non-existence. There is, however, a growing impetus to address the shortcomings in government policy that has held the industry back. We provide an overview of the pilot project at the Cradock Bio-Ethanol Production Facility, which requires further monitoring. We have found that the bio-ethanol industry is waiting on the finalisation of an appropriate incentive scheme, as well as for the Minister of Energy to render it mandatory for fuel companies to purchase bio-ethanol and blend it into the fuel supply.
  We also canvass the possible inclusion of maize as feedstock for bio-ethanol production. While taking cognizance of the pressure by the maize industry to include maize, we have concluded that the costs associated with such inclusion, considering food security and the environment are prohibitive.
  Despite the important dangers attendant upon the establishment of a biofuels industry in South Africa, authoritative research on the matter is almost non-existent in the public domain. This paper attempts to contribute to closing this knowledge gap, and call for further inter-disciplinary efforts."

 Download the paper here <> .

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DWS pulls out of multinational palm oil company Wilmar

Press release by Robin Wood:
22 March 2011
* DWS pulls out of the multinational palm oil company Wilmar
* Fund management company owned by Deutsche Bank reacts to criticism by ROBIN WOOD

DWS, the Deutsche Bank fund management company, has eliminated all stock from the phless exploitation practiced alm oil conglomerate Wilmar from its financial products. In doing so, DWS has now reacted to the criticism from the environmental organization ROBIN WOOD, which had called on the financial services provider to stop investing in Wilmar. ROBIN WOOD criticized the rutby the palm oil concern, which the local population has accused of stealing land and destroying forests for new plantations. Wilmar is also suspected of breaking the law in the way it runs its plantations.

The criticism from ROBIN WOOD referred specifically to DWS AgriX, a financial product offered by DWS. Previously, this product had contained shares from the palm oil company Wilmar International which is listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange.

Wilmar runs huge plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia and is criticized by Indonesian organizations like Save our Borneo and Walhi Jambi – alongside ROBIN WOOD – for an aggressive expansion strategy path at the expense of the local population and the environment.
Criticism of Wilmar is still continuing internationally as well. The Jakarta-based organization Greennomics recently published a study indicating that Wilmar and numerous other palm oil concerns in the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan were operating their plantations without valid licenses. As a result of illegal practices like this, the Indonesian state is deprived of high revenues.

The Norwegian organization Rainforest Foundation has demanded that Norway's national pension fund should stop investing in organizations that are destroying the rain forests, explicitly mentioning Wilmar.

"ROBIN WOOD applauds the decision taken by DWS", says Peter Gerhardt, responsible for tropical forests at ROBIN WOOD. "This is a clear signal to the financial market that investors should not be supplying fresh funds to bodies that destroy the world's rain forests."

However, Unilever – the Dutch-British consumer goods giant, has refused to take heed so far. Unilever buys Wilmar palm oil for its brands like Rama margarine. ROBIN WOOD has repeatedly criticized this irresponsible policy, but Unilever is trying to buy time and fob its critics off with non-binding promises to institute environmental measures in the future.


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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Biofuel policy is causing starvation, says Nestlé boss

Biofuel policy is causing starvation, says Nestlé boss

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Soaring food inflation is the result of "immoral" policies in the US which divert crops for use in the production of biofuels instead of food, according to the chairman of one of the world's largest food companies.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestlé, lashed out at the Obama administration for promoting the use of ethanol made from corn, at the expense of hundreds of millions of people struggling to afford everyday basics made from the crop.

Mr Brabeck-Letmathe weighed in to the increasingly acrimonious debate over food price inflation to condemn politicians around the world who seem determined to blame financial speculators instead of tackling underlying imbalances in supply and demand. And he reserved especially pointed remarks for US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, who he said was making "absolutely flabbergasting" claims for the country's ability to cope with rising domestic and global demand for corn.

"Today, 35 per cent of US corn goes into biofuel," the Nestlé chairman told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York yesterday. "From an environmental point of view this is a nonsense, but more so when we are running out of food in the rest of the world.

"It is absolutely immoral to push hundreds of millions of people into hunger and into extreme poverty because of such a policy, so I think – I insist – no food for fuel."

Corn prices almost doubled in the year to February, though they have fallen from their peak in the pastfew weeks. Anger at rising food prices contributed to protests across the Middle East, and rising commodities costs were among the factors pushing UK inflation to 4.4 per cent in February, according to figures out yesterday.

US exports account for about 60 per cent of the world's corn supply. Demand has surged as more people join the middle classes in emerging economies such as China and India, not just because these new consumers demand more food made from corn, but also because demand for meat has increased and livestock farmers need to buy more feed.

Nestlé, the company behind Shredded Wheat, Nescafé and Aero chocolate bars, has been lobbying European regulators and governments around the world against setting high targets for biofuel use, even though many countries see the production of ethanol as a means of meeting obligations to cut carbon fuel emissions.

The lobbying has fallen on deaf ears in the US, however. Ethanol production from corn is heavily subsidised, with output running at more than 13.5 billion gallons annually. Policies to promote its production are "absurd", Mr Brabeck-Letmathe claimed yesterday, and meeting a mooted global target of having 20 per cent of fuel demand with biofuels would involve increasing production by one third.

"What is the result? Prices are going up. It's not very complicated," he said. "This question is now the number one priority for the G20 meeting in Nice, and the main thing we are going to do is fight against speculation. We are concentrating on the irrelevant."

Speaking to farmers earlier this month, the Obama administration's agriculture secretary said he found arguments from the like of Nestlé "irritating". Mr Vilsack said: "The folks advancing this argument either do not understand or do not accept the notion that our farmers are as productive and smart and innovative and creative enough to meet the needs of food and fuel and feed and export."

Mr Brabeck-Letmathe was chief executive as well as chairman of Nestlé until splitting the roles in 2008. He is also on the board of luxury goods maker L'Oréal, the investment bank Credit Suisse and oil company ExxonMobil. Speaking at the CFR yesterday, he also advocated the idea of setting a price for water used in agriculture, as a means of more efficiently allocating scarce resources. And he suggested that alternative sources for biofuels could be algae and stems of harvested corn.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

EU White paper postpones serious transport CO2 cuts until 2030

More on: Brussels wants no oil-fuelled cars in cities by 2050

White paper postpones serious transport CO2 cuts until 2030

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Monday, March 21, 2011
A leaked draft of the Commission's new white paper on the future of transport says EU transport should look to reduce its emissions by 'at least 60%' by 2050 compared to 1990, but that almost all of these cuts would take place after 2030. The paper is expected to be published later this month, but the Commission has issued a low carbon 'roadmap' which says Europe must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the end of this decade if 2050 goals are to be achieved. T&E has welcomed the transport target, but says the plan for reaching it is insufficient because it postpones short-term action to the point where emissions reductions will 'magically' have to intensify after 2030.

Every 10 years, the EU renews what is officially known as its Common Transport Policy. The last two were published in 1992 and 2001. The next is due later this month.

A draft of the white paper seen by T&E sets a specific target for 2050 for surface transport and aviation, saying they have to reduce their emissions by 60% from 1990 levels. Given that transport is the only sector whose emissions are still growing, that means a cut of around 70% compared with today. But it also says transport emissions should be cut by just 20% by 2030, which is an 8% increase from 1990 levels.

A separate reduction target of 40% compared to 2005 is mentioned for shipping.

T&E director Jos Dings said: 'Including a target for emissions reduction from transport is a start, but to be credible the Commission needs to explain more of the details, for example, whether biofuels will continue to get special treatment. The short-term targets lack the necessary urgency and ambition to reach 60% in 39 years. The Commission is only aiming for a reduction of 1% per year until 2030, and then expects emissions to drop magically by around 5% each year after 2030 to reach the target. This is fantasy. We need a realistic action plan to address the twin challenges of climate change and energy dependence, and the sooner we take action, the better our chances.'

The white paper says the Commission will propose a range of measures for reducing transport's greenhouse gas emissions, but admits their effectiveness is dependent on the pace of technological development and the price of traditional fuels. The paper recognises that transport must become less dependent on oil, and says road charges are being 'increasingly considered'. It also wants to look at the impact of company car taxation.

Controversially, the white paper – in its current draft – rejects the idea of trying to reduce demand for transport saying, 'curbing mobility is not an option' . This has been criticised by T&E. Dings added: 'This is both incompetent and unacceptable. How are we to tackle congestion in cities without tackling demand for mobility in those areas? The Commission sees pricing as an important tool for funding transport infrastructure, but is in denial over its vital role in ensuring we use the infrastructure more intelligently in the first place.'

Emissions from aviation are included in the white paper's targets, but those from shipping are excluded, reflecting a growing difficulty of getting the EU to agree targets. The paper sees a big role for electric cars, and a big role for biofuels for trucks, ships and aircraft, although it says nothing about measuring or reducing the carbon footprint of biofuels.

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Brussels wants no oil-fuelled cars in cities by 2050

Not clear if 'oil fuelled' means 'internal combustion engine' and where biofuels fits/doesn't fit with this ...

Brussels wants no oil-fuelled cars in cities by 2050 [fr]

Published: 23 March 2011
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The European Commission plans to step up its battle against oil- and gas-fuelled cars, and is drawing up strict targets to halve their urban usage by 2030 and "phase them out by 2050," according to an EU road map on transport to be published on Monday (28 March) and seen by EurActiv.


75% of the journeys undertaken in metropolitan areas are made by car. The total number of kilometres travelled in EU urban areas is expected to increase by 40% between 1995 and 2030, with significant consequences for the health and quality of life of city-dwellers and the economic performance of cities themselves. 

Transport accounts for 25% of CO2 emissions and 73% of all oil consumed in Europe. Oil is still the fuel for 96% of EU transport.

Electric and clean cars are still a niche in the EU market. However, a study by forecasting company IHS predicts that the global market share of electric vehicles in new car sales could hit 20% by 2030.


These objectives will play an instrumental role in achieving the more comprehensive target of cutting CO2 emissions from transport by 60% by 2050. Currently, a quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions come from transport.

The Commission is therefore proposing an ambitious plan which eyes significant reductions of emissions especially in road transport, while it intends to increase rail traffic, on the grounds that is by far cleaner and more environment-friendly.  

The Commission plan targets mainly urban and road freight transport. The objective of car-free cities by mid-century is to be pursued through fiscal measures, promotion of alternative transport systems, and building of the necessary infrastructure to move to a widespread use of electric and clean cars.

Taxes and charges should be higher for more polluting vehicles, according to the polluter pays principle. Brussels suggests to review national rules and practices accordingly, where it is not already the case. As a last resort measure, the Commission considers to proceed to "full and mandatory internalisation of external costs."

Tap potential of European rivers

In its road map toward a single European transport area, the EU executive considers ways to increase alternative means of transport, other than oil-fuelled cars. Exploring the "unused potential of transport by river" is one of the options, where it is possible.

A massive shift toward electric cars and clean vehicles is also a key objective, as already stated in a document published last April. In order to do so, the Commission aims at achieving "co2-free city logistics in major urban centres by 2030," reads the road map to be published next week.

Promoting "joint public procurement for low emission vehicles in commercial fleets", such as delivery vans or taxis, is also under consideration.

Reducing road freight transport

Brussels also wants to shift "30% of road freight over 300 km to other modes, such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030." This target should be raised to more than 50% by 2050. Road freight transport in the EU is four times greater than that for rail.

The shift will likely be carried out through an increase in taxation for road freight transport. Clearly, cross-border road transport would be the first segment affected by the application of such a measure, in a period when its traffic volume is seriously declining due to the economic crisis – Eurostat has just published figures showing a drop by 10% between 2008 and 2009. 

Although such a target is in line with the EU objectives and is justified by the high cost for the environment of trucks and heavy vehicles circulation, the risk of this measure is to affect export of some countries rather than others.

Taxes on road freight transport are already very high in Central European countries where foreign trucks are more likely to transit. Czech Republic, Germany and Austria lead the European ranking, according to OECD figures. 

If they were further increased, they risk representing a competitive advantage for transit countries, while seriously hampering peripheral member states, and ultimately the EU internal trade.

In order to be effective, such targets should provide viable alternatives (such as railways and waterways) and financial means to develop them. But this is not the case since transport funding in the EU is increasingly difficult to be accessed, argue the critics.


  • 28 March 2011: Commission to publish White Paper with transport road map.  

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