Sources and Climate Change Mitigation) will be published on June 14 (see here and here), with a Brussels launch occurring on June 16. Videos from the May 16 presentational conference are here.
26th May 2011
The European Commission has been sued, accused of violating European transparency laws. Environmental law organisation ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE), FERN and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) filed the lawsuit following the Commission's refusal to provide access to information in decisions relating to the sustainability of Europe's biofuels policy.
The case before the General Court of the EU seeks to annul the Commission's decision to refuse public access to information about voluntary certification schemes used to ensure compliance with EU criteria on biofuel sustainability. In 2010 a request for information about organisations that had applied to operate the schemes, and how they are chosen, was rejected by the Commission. This was challenged in December, but despite a deadline of 4 February 2011, the Commission has still not responded.
The Renewable Energy Directive sets a 10 per cent target for use of renewable energy in the transport sector - expected to be met by increased production of biofuels. Increased pressure on land driven by the surge in demand for biofuels is resulting in increased greenhouse gas emissions as well as threatening vulnerable communities and biodiversity. The sustainability criteria are intended to prevent the most severe environmental impacts by requiring biofuels to protect high carbon stock areas and biodiversity standards set out in the Directive – social impacts are ignored.
Compliance is monitored by accredited voluntary certification schemes. These are accredited by the Commission to gauge whether consignments of biofuels meet sustainability criteria set out in the Renewable Energy Directive. The EU is currently considering which of these schemes it will accredit, but the process has lacked transparency.
James Thornton, ClientEarth CEO, said: "The amount of money at stake over Europe's biofuels policy is colossal, and so is the potential for environmental devastation. These policies are too important to shield from scrutiny, decision making processes need to be more participatory. We need to know which organisations have applied to run voluntary certification schemes, and how they've been chosen, so that we can be certain that they will provide robust and reliable information."
Robbie Blake, Friends of the Earth Europe's campaigner on agrofuels, said: "The European Commission has continually evaded its legal responsibility to disclose even the most basic information about voluntary certification schemes for Europe's biofuels. The stakes are high – ineffective certification schemes will give the green light to environmental abuse. We need transparency and participation in EU policy making – not secrecy and suspicion."
Nina Holland, Corporate Europe Observatory, said: "Voluntary schemes, including the roundtables on palm oil and responsible soy, allow industry to greenwash damaging monoculture crops without taking account of the environmental or social costs. The Commission must lift the veil of secrecy or companies will continue to use these schemes to improve their image, without changing the way they operate."
Case study on the negative effects of biofuels
Kenya Jatropha Energy ltd, owned by Nuove Iniziative Industrali, has applied to plant 50,000 hectares of jatropha in Dakatcha on the North Eastern coast of Kenya, to make biodiesel principally destined for European markets.
It has been shown that the Dakatcha proposal would negatively affect greenhouse gas savings, once the land-use change consequences are considered. The area also qualifies as land with a high ability to retain and release carbon (high carbon stock) and so would violate EU law. It would also violate EU law because the area is home to globally threatened birds – it is classified as an `Important Bird Area'.
Dakatcha is home to 20,000 people who are reliant on small-scale farming and the woodlands for their livelihoods. These people would face eviction if the proposal was accepted.
This case study illustrates the need for a clear, transparent, accountable and effective compliance framework to ensure that the EU's policy-driven market for biofuels does not do more harm than good.
Notes to editors:
• An EU comitology committee on the sustainability of biofuels will meet on Friday 27 May to discuss a first series of 7 voluntary certification schemes. Information on the basis of which these schemes have been assessed is not publically available. Nor is any information available on the other schemes that are still under assessment.
• ClientEarth launched two other law-suits against the EU Commission for lack of transparency over biofuels policy in 2010. For details read this press release
Environmentalists fear bill to boost Brazil's food output will increase deforestation in Amazon rainforest
Brazil's lower house has passed legislation that would loosen restrictions on how small farmers use their land in the Amazon forest.
Environmentalists still fear the revision bill would bring increased deforestation, but operators of small-scale farms and ranches defend the measure as a way to let them produce to full capacity and boost Brazil's food output.The bill, which had been debated off and on in the House of Deputies for nearly two years, easily passed on Tuesday night by 410 votes to 63, but is expected to face a tougher fight when it goes before the Senate.
In a joint communique, the countries said: "This body will provide the industry [with] a collective platform to represent both countries on public debates that relate to palm oil issues such as sustainability, energy security, public health, address NGOs' anti palm-oil campaigns, non-aligned lobby groups, media, journalists and feedbacks of Members of the European Parliament."
To send in your objection, please follow these steps:
1. Type the word ACTION into a text
2. Add your message against biofuels - your own or use one of these suggestions:
- "Biofuel companies are harming poor people and the environment. Scrap the target now."
- "Biofuels are a fake solution to climate change. Scrap the target for biofuels in transport."
3. Add your name and full postcode to the text like this...
ACTION Biofuels are harming people in poor countries. Scrap the target. Joanna Bloggs, C13 9PQ
4.Send the text to 82727
To see the other messages coming in from anti-biofuel campaigners around the country, visit www.actionaid.org.uk/mytext
Christopher Huhne (Secretary of State, Energy and Climate Change; Eastleigh, Liberal Democrat)I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. The energy-intensive work group that we have set up between my Department and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will come forward with a set of measures by the end of the year. That is a clear commitment. As he knows, there are a number of ways to help energy-intensive industries, including the free allocation of units under the EU emissions trading scheme and encouraging a move towards the use of biomass and biofuels, for example. We are looking at all those measures to ensure that we can balance the concerns of the energy-intensive industries as well as make substantial progress towards the low-carbon economy.
Theresa Villiers (Minister of State (Rail and Aviation), Transport; Chipping Barnet, Conservative)The Department for Transport Ministers meet regularly with representatives from UK and European organisations where they discuss a range of transport issues including the use of biofuels in aviation.
Norman Baker (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Regional and Local Transport), Transport; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)The Nuffield Council on Bioethics report presents some finely balanced arguments around the ethical issues of biofuels.
Norman Baker (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Regional and Local Transport), Transport; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)We are currently consulting on proposals to implement the transport elements of the Renewable Energy Directive. The consultation period will run until 2 June 2011. Consultation documents can be found on the Department for Transport (DfT) website.
Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West, Conservative)To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what assessment he made of the implications for human rights of the Clean Development Mechanism projects (a) aguan biogas recovery from palm oil mill effluent ponds and biogas utilisation and (b) lean biogas recovery from palm oil mill effluent ponds and biogas/biomass utilisation prior to authorising the purchase of credits from each project.
Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative)My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is aware of the allegations in respect of these projects and has written to the CDM Executive Board to request a robust investigation. Of the two projects mentioned in recent representations by Biofuelswatch, the UK Government have issued only a Letter of Authorisation (LoA) in respect of the participation of EDF Trading Ltd in the Aguan Biogas Recovery project (CDM reference number 3197). The Lean Biogas Recovery project was not authorised by the UK.
Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West, Conservative)To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what representations he has received on the (a) augan biogas recovery from palm oil mill effluent ponds and biogas utilisation and (b) lean biogas recovery from palm oil mill effluent ponds and biogas/biomass utilisation project under the Clean Development Mechanism; and if he will make a statement.
Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative)The allegations of human rights abuses in connection with these two projects were first brought to the attention of the Secretary of State on 4 February 2011, when a letter of protest was received from a coalition of NGOs led by Biofuelwatch. This was followed in early April by a mass e-mail campaign.
Last week Friends of the Earth, RSPB and ActionAid held a joint parliamentary briefing event on biofuels. Here is a short blog on it:
There is also a new email action to tell your MP that biofuels are a false solution
Analysis: Wood fuel poised to be next global commodity
By Gerard Wynn
LONDON | Thu May 19, 2011
(Reuters) - Wood fuel, one of the oldest energy sources on the planet, could become the newest commodity market if it can overcome supply limits and green concerns as demand grows for renewable energy.
Supply constraints are starting to put wood fuel into competition with the paper industry, experts say, in an uneasy reminder of existing tension between the food industry and companies making biofuels from food crops.
In theory burning wood and crop waste emits less carbon than fossil fuels because it simply returns to the air carbon accumulated by plants as they grow, but that balance breaks down if stock is not replanted, or natural forests are logged.
In the meantime, utilities are burning biomass in ever greater amounts and now want price certainty and derivatives to manage their cost exposure in forward power sales, although European policymakers are mulling limits on subsidies for burning wood fuel given concerns about deforestation.
"It's coming very fast," said John Bingham, a director at consultants Hawkins Wright, referring to the development of an open market, and citing Eurostat data showing EU imports of wood pellets up 42 percent last year.
He saw increasing evidence of a larger scale market including big producers of wood pellets in Europe and North America and big intermediaries, such as Cargill and Gazprom, to balance large utility buyers.
Shaped wood pellets are made for the energy sector, while raw wood chips are used mostly by the paper industry.
The energy exchange APX-Endex is working with the Port of Rotterdam to supply an exchange-traded pellet product this year, while index provider FOEX has joined up with specialists Wood Resources International (WRI) for a global wood chip index.
Those developments herald a gradual shift to a more transparent market beyond bilateral deals between suppliers and users, such as timber companies and utilities.
Indicating the size of appetite, Britain's biggest coal-fired power plant, Drax, burned nearly 1 million tonnes of biomass last year, more than double previous years, while burning ten times that amount of coal.
Drax says biomass expansion depends on clearer UK support, under power market reforms to be announced before the summer. Its sources include straw and energy crops such as miscanthus.
Wood pellets have about 70 percent of the calorific value of coal, experts say.
The British arm of German utility RWE, RWE npower will this year convert a coal plant near London to burn biomass.
The aging plant will burn 2 million tonnes through 2015, when it is due to close, said a spokesman who added the facility would be a test bed for the alternative fuel.
That compares with domestic UK wood fuel production, excluding recycled or waste wood, of about 1.5 million tonnes annually, according to Forestry Commission data, underlining a need for a global trade.
It is an open question whether there is enough volume for an open market, however, given utilities have already tied up large volumes in long contracts, or produce pellets for themselves, said WRI's Hakan Ekstrom.
If EU wood fuel subsidies were more predictable and reliable -- for example the UK support to be announced in the next few weeks -- then utilities would commit to buy bigger volumes, and so motivate more supply, traders say.
But new utility demand for wood fuel, subsidized by EU low-carbon incentives, may also impact the paper and even construction industries, Ekstrom added.
"The concern is that the energy industry is starting to compete with pulp in particular but even MDF or particle board plants. They don't like to see that the energy sector is subsidized so that they can pay more for chips and pulp logs.
"That's starting to be a problem or an issue in Europe, in North America, Latin America."
And that supply issue drives concerns whether a burgeoning wood fuel market may damage natural forests.
"It's a completely crazy idea that we can burn our way out of climate change," said Robert Palgrave from the green group Biofuelwatch UK, who preferred wind power or energy efficiency.
Palgrave was among two dozen or so protesters outside an Environmental Finance biomass conference in London last week.
Such concerns are reflected in a European Commission study of the environmental impact of biomass incentives.
The Commission will decide this year whether to propose new eligibility rules, called sustainability criteria, for biomass subsidies.
"The Commission intends to publish the next report by the end of the year, as requested," said a spokeswoman. The biomass industry says it is working on its own green standards, and that plantation forests and waste will be the main sources of supply.
(Editing by Keiron Henderson)
War Declared Against the Peasantry of the Lower Aguán
The Wave of Killings, Tortures, and Disappearances Continues
Cross-posted from Giorgio Trucchi – Rel-UITA
By Giorgio Trucchi – Rel-UITA; translated by Jeff Conant, GJEP
While North American diplomacy increases the pressure to normalize the situation in Honduras at the international level, and to reinsert the nation into the Organization of American States (OAS), the organized peasantry of the lower Aguán continues falling beneath the bullets of paramilitary groups that enjoy total impunity and the complicit silence of the authorities of a failed state.
This morning, May 18, Sixto Ramos, a member of business Nueva Suyapa of the Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MCA), was killed. Sixto was 45 years old. According to a reconstruction of the events, Ramos was driving to work when he was intercepted by unknown assailants in another vehicle who fired on him until he was killed.
"The repression in the Bajo Aguán continues against those of us who are supporting the struggle for access to land," said José Santos Cruz, a member of the MCA who formed a part of the International Mission in March, 2011 that investigated the human rights situation in Bajo Aguán.
"Sixto Ramos was a compañero and member of the business Nueva Suyapa, and has always supported the struggle of the MCA. We believe that this new killing is directly linked to our conflict with the land-owners and [African] palm producers of the zone," said Cruz.
Notice of War
Last week, peasant farmers José Paulino Lemus Cruz and Henry Roney Díaz, members of the MCA and of the Movimiento Auténtico Reivindicador de Campesinos del Aguán (MARCA), were both brutally killed.
On May 10, Alejandro Gómez, a member of the farm La Trinidad, which belongs to MARCA, was kidnapped by the private security guards of local landowners, interrogated, and savagely tortured for three days before being released. He is currently in hiding for fear of being killed.
On May 15, the peasant farmer Francisco Pascual López, 38 years old, was disappeared. According to the available information, the people who last saw him heard gunfire prior to his disappearance. When they arrived at his house, he was gone.
With the violent death of Sixto Ramos, the number of deaths suffered by the peasant organizations in the lower Aguán has risen to 28 in the past 15 months. Regardless, international pressure continues to build to demand that Honduras be restored its seat in the OAS.
"They haven't been able to defeat us with the massive militarization of the Army and the Police, and now they are attacking us selectively. They want to decimate us, killing us one by one. As the MCA we are going to unite to take the necessary steps, because we can't continue simply denouncing these crimes," said Cruz.
"The regime offers a false image of Honduras. This country is not at peace, and people continue being killed. It would be lamentable to ignore so many cadavers and so many human rights violations. The conditions do not exist under which Honduras should return to the OAS," Cruz concluded.
Huge surge in Amazon deforestation
May 17, 2011
Analysis by Imazon, a research institute, has confirmed a huge surge in deforestation in a critical part of the Brazilian Amazon.
Imazon's satellite-based deforestation detection system recorded a near doubling in forest clearing in the state of Mato Grosso from August 2010-April 2011 over the year-earlier period. The findings are significant because Mato Grosso, which accounts for the bulk of Amazon deforestation in most years, is a bellwether for deforestation trends in Brazil.
Imazon's analysis shows that deforestation amounted to 243 km square in Mato Grosso in the month of April, a 537 percent increase over April 2010. But forest degradation — logging, burning, and thinning of forest that often precedes deforestation — reached 1,755 square kilometers in the month, up from 13 square kilometers April a year earlier.
The news comes just days after data leaked by Brazil's national space research agency INPE also showed a big increase in deforestation. But INPE hasn't officially released the data from its rapid deforestation detection (DETER) system, which has now been delayed by more than two months.
Imazon and other groups say the spike in deforestation is related to the ongoing debate over Brazil's forest code. Anticipating a weakening in the code that would grant amnesty for deforestation, farmers and ranchers have been clearing swathes of forest. Dry conditions, lingering from last year's worst-ever drought, have exacerbated the situation.
Information leak: Amazon deforestation increases sharply while forest code debated
Rhett A. Butler, May 16, 2011
Deforestation has increased sharply in Mato Grosso over the past nine months according to information leaked to Folha.com.
The news, revealed during a lecture last Friday in Cuiaba, is significant because INPE, Brazil's space research agency that tracks deforestation has unusually not provided any updates from its rapid deforestation detection system (DETER) since February, a period during which Brazil's forest code has been hostly debated in Congress. The agricultural lobby is pushing for reductions in the amount of forest farmers and ranchers must set aside for conservation under the forest code. Environmentalists call the proposed changes a weakening of the code and fear it could be used to grant amnesty to deforesters and encourage more forest clearing in the future. Some green groups say there has already been an uptick in clearing in anticipation of amnesty.
According to Folha.com, deforestation in Mato Grosso climbed 43% between August 2010 and April 2011 compared with the same period last year. Mato Grosso, which accounts for the bulk of Amazon deforestation in most years, is a bellwether for deforestation trends in Brazil.
While the data raises concern, INPE officials have long cautioned about making judgements about deforestation trends based on DETER, which has coarser resolution than Brazil's annual tracking system called PRODES. DETER's accuracy can also obscured by cloud cover, which is especially common during the rainier times of the year from November through June.
Brazil is testing a new system to improve the accuracy of its deforestation tracking. Over the past couple of years some officials have expressed concern that deforesters are clearing smaller tracts of land to avoid detection by satellite. While the individual tracts are smaller, the number of cleared areas is greater.
New Study Shows No Bond Between Land Use Changes and Biofuels
NAFB News Service
Researchers at Michigan State University used historical data on U.S. croplands, commodity grain exports and land use trends to see if there was a link between indirect land use change (ILUC) and biofuels expansion through 2007. They concluded that U.S. biofuel production has not provoked ILUC, saying crop intensification may have absorbed the effects of expanding biofuels production or the effects of production expansion may be negligible within the accuracy of the data. This conclusion is similar to that of a recent conclusion made by the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which says ILUC as a result of corn ethanol expansion during the past 10 years has been minimal to zero.
The ILUC theory suggests any acre used to produce feedstocks for biofuels in the U.S. results in new acres entering food or feed production in other areas of the world. Previous ILUC studies have not compared predictions to past global historical data - as the MSU study did. The researchers' report suggests cropland expansion in other countries isn't correlated to U.S. biofuels demand for certain feedstocks. Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen says this research has demonstrated that ILUC as a matter of science and fact is wrong and has been deeply flawed since its beginning. He says biofuels like ethanol offer unparalleled environmental benefits as a renewable alternative to gasoline.
also covered by Renewable Fuels Association at
<<But the paper itself is far less certain about the lack of ILUC from biofuels>>:
Indirect land use change for biofuels: Testing predictions and improving analytical methodologies
Seungdo Kima, and Bruce E. Dale,
Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, Michigan State University, 3900 Collins Road, Lansing, MI 48910, USA
Received 27 January 2011; revised 21 April 2011; accepted 25 April 2011. Available online 13 May 2011.
Current practices for estimating indirect land use change (iLUC) due to United States biofuel production rely on assumption-heavy, global economic modeling approaches. Prior iLUC studies have failed to compare their predictions to past global historical data. An empirical approach is used to detect evidence for iLUC that might be catalyzed by United States biofuel production through a "bottom-up", data-driven, statistical approach. Results show that biofuel production in the United States from 2002 to 2007 is not significantly correlated with changes in croplands for corn (coarse grain) plus soybean in regions of the world which are corn (coarse grain) and soybean trading partners of the United States. The results may be interpreted in at least two different ways: 1) biofuel production in the United States through 2007 (the last date for which information is available) probably has not induced any indirect land use change, and 2) this empirical approach may not be sensitive enough to detect indirect land use change from the historical data. It seems clear that additional effort may be required to develop methodologies to observe indirect land use change from the historical data. Such efforts might reduce uncertainties in indirect land use change estimates or perhaps form the basis for better policies or standards for biofuels.
► We search for evidence for ILUC due to US biofuel from the historical data. ► No significant correlations are found between US biofuel production and cropland changes elsewhere. ► US biofuel through 2007 probably did not induce ILUC or. ► This empirical approach using historical data is not capable of detecting ILUC. ► More sophisticated methodologies to detect ILUC from empirical data are needed.