Thursday, June 27, 2013

[biofuelwatch] Re: UN launches biofuels report

Please note that this is not a UN report but rather an independent report from a high level panel of experts to the Committee on Food Security

Best regards


Olivier Dubois
Natural Resources  Officer & Leader Energy Team
Climate, Energy and Tenure Division (NRC)
Natural Resource Management and Environment
UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
Via delle Terme di Caracalla
Rome 00153, ITALY
Phone: 0039 06 570 56497; Fax: 0039 06 570 53250 website:



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[biofuelwatch] Sugar cane and palm oil companies forcing Guatemala's small farmers off the land 

Guatemala's sugar cane land rush anything but sweet for corn growers

Sugar cane and palm oil companies able to afford inflated rents are forcing Guatemala's smallholder farmers off their land

MDG : Farmer Victor Manuel Vasquez in Taxisco, Guatemala
Priced out … Guatemalan farmer Victor Manuel Vasquez tends his land. Industrial plantations are affecting livelihoods. Photograph: Juan Manuel Barrero Bueno/Oxfam

For the past decade, the corn farmers of this village in southern Guatemala managed to scratch out two harvests of maize a year from the 10 hectares (24.7 acres) of land they rent. But the crop they planted in May will be their last.

"We no longer have land to grow on because the owners of the land told us that this will be our last harvest there," says Moisés Morales, president of the Amanecer farmers' association. Sugar cane growers, they were told, had offered double the rent that the corn growers paid. The corn farmers couldn't match the price.

The plots farmed by the Amanecer members used to be among thousands of corn farms in the municipality of Taxisco. Today they are surrounded by a sea of sugar cane fields. Most small plots have been bought up and crowded out by expanding cane farms. Many corn farmers have left the area for the low foothills of nearby mountains "where cane harvesting machines can't go", says Morales.

"We're being surrounded bit by bit," he says. "We're like on a small island in the middle of all this cane."

Farmers are trapped in a land rush in Guatemala, which has one of the most unequal land distribution structures in the world. Before the spike in demand, 78% of Guatemala's arable land was in the hands of 8% of the population, according to government statistics from 2003. The trend since has been concentration of land by sugar cane and African palm companies aiming to meet demand for biofuel in Europe and the US, says Laura Hurtado, an agrarian expert with Oxfam.

Some progress on land reform was made after the end of Guatemala's civil war in 1996, when peace deals included an agreement to promote the democratisation of land structures and reverse the concentration of land. But an estimated 46% of smallholders who were granted land titles after the peace accords no longer hold them, according to Hurtado.

"It's terrible to see that, 15 years after the peace accords, the little that was won has been lost," she says. Many farmers are selling their land because of unpayable debt or crops failure – and sugar and palm companies are snapping up the bargains. Often, farmers are coerced into selling when they see their access to roads or water cut off by encroaching plantations. Others are threatened outright.

Palm and cane plantations are expanding in areas where lands have been newly titled. "The fact that newly titled farmers go into debt to plant their crops makes the lands more vulnerable to be appropriated," says Hurtado, who points out that maps of newly titled land and palm and sugar plantations overlap at many points.

Sometimes, things get violent. In 2011, more than 750 families were forcibly evicted in the Polochic valley in northern Guatemala because the owners of a sugar refinery claimed ownership of land that had been occupied by landless peasants after lying fallow for several years.

The Polochic area eviction has come to symbolise a broader struggle for land by smallholder farmers. According to the secretariat for agrarian affairs, more than 1 million people were involved in nearly 1,400 land disputes as of May.

Agriculture minister Elmer López, who has a background in development, says the government's official policy is to prevent the reconcentration of land, but that it lacks effective tools to do so. The agencies established by the peace accords to address land issues "did not receive enough support" from a succession of governments, which focused more on promoting agribusiness for export than supporting domestic food security. In addition to Guatemala's main export crops of coffee, sugar, rubber and bananas, the country exports cane and palm oil for biofuels, and baby vegetables for the US market. Cardamom, which is not used in Guatemalan cooking, is a major export product to the Middle East and India.

A rural development law that would have promoted better access to land, employment and other rights for smallholder farmers – but which stopped short of proposing all-out land reform – was thwarted in Congress last year amid opposition from large landowners and businesses that, according to López, had an "allergic reaction" to the proposals.

Paulo de Leon, director of investment consulting firm Central American Business Intelligence, says the bill was flawed because it "left open for the agriculture authorities to determine the use of land and the subject of ownership".

He questioned the need to help small-scale landholders in the first place, claiming that in 20 years 75% of Guatemala's population will shift to the cities, if urbanisation trends continue.

All the more reason, says López, for Guatemala to concentrate on rural development. "What's better: for a family to move to the city with dignity, and whose children have the skills to live well in the city, or for a family to arrive penniless with no skills other than an eternal hope that things in the city will be better?"

Sibylla Brodzinsky travelled to Guatemala from Colombia, where she is based, on a reporting grant from Oxfam


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[Biofuelwatch] New alert: Green Investment Bank must not fund destructive biomass power station in Grangemouth

Dear all,

On 3rd June, the Scottish Government granted planning consent to Forth Energy to build a biomass power station in Grangemouth which would burn 1.5 million tonnes of wood every year - most likely imported from the North and/or South America.  Now, we have found out, the Green Investment Bank is considering whether to provide finance which would allow Forth Energy to actually build the plant.

The Green Investment Bank was set up with £3 billion of public finance to support sustainable, low-carbon investments.  Big biomass, such as the proposed power station in Grangemouth, is neither: It means more forest destruction and potentially more land-grabbing for tree plantations, high carbon emissions and high levels of air pollution threatening local people's health.  And for every three trees cut down to be burned in Grangemouth, we expect that around two will be entirely wasted as uncaptured heat.

The Green Investment Bank has already co-funded Drax so that they can burn the equivalent of 1.6 times the UK's total annual wood production and continue burning large amounts of coal, too, instead of having to close down under EU regulations.  Funding for Forth Energy's biomass plans would further undermine the Green Investment Bank's credentials and undermine its stated purpose.  Please write to the Green Bank today and call on them not to fund Forth Energy's Grangemouth power station and to stop funding big biomass: .  You can find more background information on that page, too.  Please help us to spread the word about this alert by letting others know and sharing it through social media.  Many thanks.

Update: Thank you to everybody who previously wrote to the Green Investment Bank to protest about their loan to Drax.  The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), who were copied in, have asked us to publish their response, which we have done.  We do not think that the response addresses any of our concerns - but please see for yourself: .

Best regards,

The Biofuelwatch Team

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We're also on Twitter @Biofuelwatch.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

[biofuelwatch] UN launches biofuels report

26 June 2013

Responding to a report launched today (Wednesday 26 June) by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation on the impacts of biofuels on food security, Friends of the Earth's Biofuels Campaigner Kenneth Richter said:

"This is a stark reminder that Europe's biofuel targets are driving up food prices and increasing hunger among the world's poorest people.

"The biofuels industry is lobbying hard against new proposals before the European Parliament to limit the use of food crops for biofuels.

"MEPs must not bow to industry pressure - they must end the use of food for fuel."


Notes to editors

1. Please see the UN's report 'Biofuels and food security'.

2. The report, written by the UN's High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security, confirms that the production of biofuel from crops has a significant and direct impact on food prices and food availability:

· "When crops are used for biofuels, the first direct impact is to reduce food and feed availability. This induces an increase in prices and a reduction of food demand by the poor."

· "Everything else being equal, the introduction of a rigid biofuel demand does affect food commodity prices. This observation holds in each context, even in the context of prices going down for other reasons than biofuels."

· "In the last few years (since 2004) of short-term commodity food price increase, biofuels did play an important role."

· "All crops compete for the same land or water, labour, capital, inputs and investment and there are no current magic non-food crops that can ensure more harmonious biofuel production on marginal lands. Therefore, non-food/feedcrops should be assessed with the same rigour as food/feedcrops for their direct and indirect food security impacts."


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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

[biofuelwatch] Biomass as damaging as fossil fuels - UNEP author

UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet

Lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change, UN report says

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.
As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.
It says: "Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."
Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: "Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels."

Read more:


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[biofuelwatch] Indonesian Minister suggests 8 palm oil companies in Riau setting fires 

Smoking gun in Malaysian hands

Paper Edition | Page: 1

Preliminary investigations have singled out eight plantation companies owned by Malaysian investors as the source of forest fires in Riau that have caused Southeast Asia's worst ever air pollution crisis.

The fires have started a diplomatic war of words between Indonesia, as the source of the problem, and Singapore and Malaysia, as the countries receiving the brunt of the smog.

Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya suggested on Saturday that the eight palm-oil companies were using illegal slash-and-burn methods as the cheapest way to clear land for cultivation.

"The ministry is still gathering more evidence and verification in the field. The fires are, for sure, on their concessions," said Balthasar, in Riau's capital Pekanbaru.

"I will immediately meet my Malaysian counterpart to inform him of the findings and seek ways to resolve the current issue and stop recurrence in the future," he said. The allegations will be followed up by Riau Police.

The companies in question are PT Langgam Inti Hibrida, PT Bumi Reksa Nusa Sejati, PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation, PT Udaya Loh Denawi, PT Adei Plantation, PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, PT Multi Gambut Industri, and PT Mustika Agro Lestari.

Tunggal Mitra is a unit of Minamas Plantation, subsidiary of Malaysia-based Sime Darby Plantations, while Adei Plantation is owned by Kepong Berhard. The Jakarta Post's emails for clarification to these companies have gone unanswered.

The Environment Ministry's deputy for environmental degradation and climate change, Arief Yuwono, said that under the environment law, the penalties for causing illegal forest fires are a maximum of 10 years in prison and fines of up to 5 billion rupiah (US$504,000).

Six other companies are also involved, but Balthasar refused to name them.

Plantation companies have often ordered local people to burn forest or peatland near their concessions, hoping that the fire will spread onto their land.

"Once the fire takes hold of their concessions, the companies shift the blame onto the local residents as if the fire had accidentally and spread to their land," the Minister said.

In the past week, smog from the fires has brought misery to Singapore and western part of Malaysia. Air quality in Singapore improved drastically to "moderate" on Saturday from life-threatening levels on Friday afternoon, after the Indonesian government declared a state of emergency in Riau, the source of most of the smoke.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) sent two helicopters for water bombing on Friday. Cassa and Hercules aircraft from the Air Force are ready for cloud seeding over the next month.

As the haze obscures visibility and provokes numerous coughing fits in Singapore, there has been a 22 percent increase in outbound flight searches this week, compared to the previous week, according to global travel search site Skyscanner. Bali, Bangkok and Hong Kong topped the searched destinations.

Chairman of the Indonesian Travel and Tour Companies Association (ASITA) Asnawi Bahar, however, said there had been no indication of a rise in the number of tourists from Singapore, or cancellations of visits by Indonesians to Singapore.

"We have not seen any impact of haze. Demand from both inbound and outbound tourists between the two countries remain shealthy," said Asnawi.

"But we're going to have a meeting on June 28th to update and review the problem because if the haze continues in the next few months, it will severely impact the travel industry."

Smailing Tour spokesman Wisnu Wardhana said the agency had not seen any decrease in demand to Singapore.

"There have been no cancellations for packages that include visits to Marina Bay Sands, Raffless, Merlion Park or Universal Studios. We just sent 7 groups of travelers to Singapore, and we are going to send another group next week," he said.

Around 1.5 million Indonesian visited Singapore every year, accounting for around 15 percent of total tourist arrivals in Singapore. (asw)


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Monday, June 24, 2013

[biofuelwatch] European Investments Assist Land Grabs for Palm Oil In Liberia

Press release
For immediate release: Monday June 24, 2013

European funded palm oil expansion in Liberia linked to social and
environmental damage

Brussels/Monrovia, Liberia, June 24, 2013 – European banks, pension
funds and private equity funds have given financial assistance worth
more than €450 million to Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby,
responsible for environmental degradation and violations of national
regulations in Liberia, according to new research from Friends of the
Earth Europe [1].

An independent impact assessment released today (Monday 24th) by Reading
University reveals that Sime Darby operations could lead to a loss of
biodiversity, food sources and livelihoods – leading to chronic poverty.
There would also be significant environmental impacts with the loss of
primary and secondary forest. [2]

Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor, campaigner for Friends of the Earth Liberia
said: "Investments in agriculture can benefit the poor, but the reality
in Liberia is very different. Farmers are losing their land and
livelihoods, the rights of those living in poverty in rural areas are
being violated, and the forests on which communities depend are
increasingly threatened. I see no guarantees that rural communities will
benefit in any meaningful way from investments in palm oil."

Sime Darby, which receives financial assistance from European banks and
pension funds including the Norwegian pension fund, UK-based Schroder
investment management and Dutch funds PfZW, has signed a 63-year lease
with the government of Liberia for 311,187 hectares [3] to grow palm
oil, according to Friends of the Earth Liberia and allies [4].

An initiative comprised of the private sector, civil society and the
Liberian government  found Sime Darby culpable of failing to comply with
local land laws; and of failing to conduct public consultations or
produce due diligence reports as required by Liberian rules [5] –
directly contradicting investor policies that require companies to
respect national laws and environmental regulation.

Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner for Friends of the Earth
Europe said: "European funds need to stop financing land grabs in
Liberia. Even though most investors have sustainability principles there
are no effective procedures in place to deal with violations – which
makes these policies meaningless. Investors and financiers need to put
their money where their mouth is and pressure Sime Darby to stop
grabbing land."

Friends of the Earth Europe is calling on investors and financiers of
Sime Darby to pressure the company to clean up its operations, or risk
divestment. European banks and pension funds should not be contributing
to land conflicts with local communities, deforestation or to companies
who violate national law. Sime Darby should bring an immediate end to
land-grabbing and deforestation, ensure adequate compensation, and any
future development should obey national law and ensure free, prior and
informed consent from affected communities.

For more information please contact:

Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner, Friends of the Earth
Tel: +32 (0) 2 893 1020, Mob: +31 6 2434 3968, e-mail:

Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor, campaigner, Friends of the Earth Liberia
Tel: +44 7405 629077 (UK), +231 (0) 880 655712 (Liberia), e-mail:

Sam Fleet, communications officer, Friends of the Earth Europe
Tel: +32 (0) 2 893 1012, e-mail:


[1] This includes loans with a total value of 280 million euro and
assistance with the issuing of new bonds with a total value of 250
million euro. For more information:


[3] Factsheet on Sime Darby:

Profundo research on Sime Darby:

[4] Sustainable Development Institute/Friends of the Earth Liberia, Save
My Future Foundation (SAMFU) and Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable
Development (SESDev).

[5] Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) post
award process audit final report:


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Sunday, June 23, 2013

[biofuelwatch] Video - demolition of the water catchment for Betock, Manyemen, and Ebanga by Herakles Farms in Cameroon

Video part 1 (The long walk to the water catchment foundation, the huge completed road, and meeting the construction foreign workers) –

Video part 2 (More chat with the construction foreign workers than they met the local company's fading South African boss) -

YouTube Video clips of the destruction of the Water catchment source for the local communities of Betock, Manyemen, and Ebanga villages by Herakles Farms who where constructing a hell of a road in the middle of the rain forest located in the South West region of Cameroon – see the uncut video clips of the wrecked water catchment deliver point, hear the youths cry out, view the massive road, and the youths meeting the local Herakles Farms boss who was full of embarrassment for the company's land grabbing chaos.

"They came to kill us, not to remove us from poverty. Why Herakles? Why Herakles? My children are sick at home"

They believed that the world will not see this Video clips – promises of local fresh jobs should keep the communities quiet about water – silent and confusion about water supplies – what is the status of drinking water in the villages? – It depends who you speak to in or out of the villages.

"The Chiefs of Manyemen and Ebanga villages were not acting tough on this water drinking issue but weakly and hurriedly signing new reduced land deals with greedy friend Herakles in June 2013 without keeping copies for the village records."

"When they PP at the Talangaye plantation road, they drink it in Manyemen town"

"Herakles Farms was illegally opening 2,500 hectares plantation block negotiated with Talangaye, Ekita, Ebanga and Manyemen villages, the fact that about 600 hectares of this first block already falls outside Herakles Farms proposed concession limit PLUS overlapping into traditional land and the water supplies to the villages"

"A plot to remove the Solidrock Farmers house CIG from their farms in Manyemen to transform the farms in a community forest is no help to farmers in the region. The illegal demarcation has started without the group's knowledge and or approval resulting in the destruction of food crops this was reported to the administration on the 14/06/2013 in Nguti"

"Cancelling the suspension/not paying fines was saving the thieves and corrupted gentlemen in suits from prison, not the rain forest, farmers or the local communities as required by Cameroonian laws"

Read more at -


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[biofuelwatch] forest burning in Sumatra for palm oil causes serious smog in Singapore

Singapore smog casts diplomatic cloud

Haze from burning palm oil plantations in Indonesia has left the two nations at loggerheads over pollution.

 Last Modified: 22 Jun 2013 17:42
Singapore's famous skyline is barely visible through the midday haze [Heather Tan/Al Jazeera]

Singapore, RoS - What started out as a seemingly minor worry over air pollution has taken on a dramatic twist and spiralled into escalating diplomatic tension between Singapore and Indonesia.

Singapore is facing its worst pollution crisis in more than a decade, after forest fires in Indonesia caused air quality in the neighbouring city - usually relatively pollutant-free - to plunge into the hazardous zone, reaching readings of up to 400 on the "Pollutant Standards Index" on Friday afternoon. According to the National Environmental Agency, air becomes "very unhealthy" when it hits the 200 mark and is "hazardous" at 300.

Indonesia has refused to apologise for the haze crisis, insisting instead its government would do everything it could to tackle the problem.

"The Singaporean government must be aware that we have done all we can to tackle this haze problem," Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa said late on Friday. "Indonesia has been dealing with the haze for years and improvements have been made."

A sign at the National University Hospital help show the
scale of the problem [Heather Tan/Al Jazeera]

Haze is not a new phenomenon in Southeast Asia, but the severity of air pollution this year raised alarms among Singaporeans, prompting the government to confront its vast neighbour, the world's fourth-largest country, about its forest fires.

Singapore formed a 'ministerial haze committee" and sent officials to an emergency meeting in Jakarta on Friday. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also got involved, reiterating that he would write to Indonesia to register "serious concerns".

"No country or corporation has the right to pollute air at the expense of Singaporeans' health and well-being," said Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, adding that this year's haze was the worst Singapore had ever faced.

Indonesia reacted, accusing Singapore of "behaving like a child" by complaining. "Singapore shouldn't be like children, in such a tizzy," said coordinating Minister Agung Laksono, who told reporters Singapore said nothing when there was fresh air but complained about "occasional haze".

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said such pollution was "a persistent problem" between the two countries, dating back to the 1990s. "The Indonesian authorities' seeming indifference to the haze will only strain bilateral relations," Tan said, adding that Singapore's hands were tied and it "remained at the mercy of Indonesia".

"Indonesia appears to have taken the view that it is doing all it can, and that it is not for neighbouring countries to say what more ought to be done."

Kishore Mahbubani, dean and professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said there would always be differences and challenges in any bilateral relationship, but asserted that the overall relationship between the Southeast Asian counterparts remained positive.

"There is no doubt that Singapore is extremely unhappy with the haze which comes from Indonesia, but I don't see this as a persistent source of tension that could damage bilateral relations," he said.

Environmental emergency

"Fires across Sumatra are wreaking havoc for millions of people in the region and destroying the climate," said Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace's Indonesian forest campaign. The activists also blamed palm oil companies for causing fires on Sumatra island.

Palm oil producers must immediately deploy fire crews to extinguish these fires, but cleaning up their act starts with adopting a zero deforestation policy.

Bustar Maitar, Greenpeace

"Palm oil producers must immediately deploy fire crews to extinguish these fires, but cleaning up their act starts with adopting a zero deforestation policy," said Greenpeace.

Indonesia blamed eight palm oil companies for the fires and named two Singapore firms it believes had roles in contributing to the billowing smoke.

In an attempt to remedy the increasingly urgent situation, military planes and helicopters were dispatched into the skies above Riau province to put out raging fires.

Known as cloud-seeding, the technique attempts to create rain by "encouraging the condensation of water in clouds", explained scientist Simon Watts at the NUS Environmental Research Institute. "It is a way of creating rain but it is important to understand that smoke itself contains many substances which are harmful to health," he said.

Watts noted that rain would not be "a total solution", as harmful gases and particles found in smoke from forest fires could instead end up on the ground and in reservoirs.

"While rainfall occurring through cloud-seeding techniques reduces particle concentrations in the atmosphere to some degree, it is limited to the time it is raining - so as soon as the rain stops, smoke-laden air will continue to spread, unless the rain is heavy enough to put out all burning sources," he said. "Environmentally, it is the materials used that raise concerns, and in some places, experiments for cloud seeding have been halted for precautionary reasons."

Earlier in the week, Indonesia deployed firefighters to contain the blazes and said it was educating farmers about environmentally friendlier alternatives - but fires continued to rage as the weather worsened.

The dry season sees large areas of forests being burnt to clear land and occurs annually between June and September. Dangerous levels of smoke are created during this period, and native wildlife has also been said to be severely affected, with as many as a third of the rare Sumatran orangutans being wiped out last year.

Singapore believes part of the problem stems from companies commissioning the fires, but environmental security analyst Gianna Gayle Herrera Amul told Al Jazeera that naming and shaming the guilty parties would only serve as "a blame-shifting game that could deviate from the root causes of the haze".

"The bigger picture here is a much drier climate and Indonesia's own development goals," she said, adding that putting out the fires would only matter if there was effective implementation of existing laws. "Indonesia's vision needs to reconcile with overall efforts to address consequent environmental degradation, as assistance from regional countries to deal with the fires is only a short-term solution."

Regional suffering

Neighbouring Malaysia also bore some of the regional brunt when it closed 200 schools and banned fires in some areas, after a district in the south recorded hazardous pollution levels similar to Singapore.

Indonesia forest fire smoke chokes Singapore

Marine police warned of thick haze conditions in the Straits of Malacca and marine vessels plying the waterway refrained from navigating at night to avoid a repeat of a 1997 accident when two ships collided, throwing dozens of sailors into the sea.

In Singapore, skyscrapers and major tourist attractions disappeared from view as haze swept through the city, imprisoning citizens indoors. The military suspended outdoor training and fast food giants halted delivery services due to the worsening conditions. Public transportation was also affected, forcing train services to slow down due to poor visibility.

Life however, went on for the city's construction workers, many of them migrant labourers who continued to toil outdoors without protection, despite the horrendous air condition.

Pakistani tourist Ubaid Ghani Rathore, 39, who was in Singapore on a business trip, blamed the bad weather for his failed sightseeing plans. "I am obviously very disappointed as I was hoping to see more of Singapore - but due to this unfortunate haze, I can't see all the sights I had been planning on visiting," he said.

Boxes of disposable masks flew off pharmacy shelves, as fearful consumers rushed to buy them in an effort to protect themselves against the conditions that look set to plague the country for months. Some netizens also reported prices of masks being doubled due to high demand.

Sales executive Kitty Goh, 25, who queued up at the National University Hospital for two hours, told Al Jazeera that masks had been sold out by noon, despite staff limiting masks to three per person.

"I'll have to use my masks very carefully in this case," she said. "Who knows when we will ever see clear skies again?"

Follow Heather Tan on Twitter: @tanheather

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[biofuelwatch] Pollution from planned Dundee wood-burning plant will be ‘like two million cars’

Pollution from planned wood-burning plant will be `like two million cars'

23 June 2013

Wood to burn?A proposed wood-burning power station will belch as much toxic pollution into the air as two million car exhausts and put public health at serious risk, environmentalists are warning.

Controversial plans for a new £325 million plant at the port of Dundee are due to be considered by city councillors tomorrow. But critics say that hazardous emissions from the smokestack could worsen air pollution in the city, which is already at dangerous levels.

Like motor vehicles, burning wood produces tiny sooty particles and nitrogen dioxide gas, which can trigger breathing problems, heart attacks and strokes. Estimates by government advisers suggest that air pollution could be responsible for 3,000 premature deaths in Scotland every year.

The Dundee plant is one of four originally planned by Forth Energy, which brings the harbour company, Forth Ports, together with the power company, Scottish and Southern Energy. A plant at Leith in Edinburgh was abandoned after protests, a plant at Rosyth in Fife is awaiting a decision by ministers and a plant at Grangemouth in Falkirk was given the go-ahead earlier this month.

If the three remaining plants are built, they will be fuelled by importing a total of 1.7 million tonnes of wood chips and pellets every year from felling forests in North America and elsewhere. Forth Energy claims that this will cut climate pollution, but this is disputed by environmental groups.

The plants are likely to qualify for significant renewable energy subsidies from the government. They are seen by their backers as a crucial way of decarbonising the economy, but by their opponents as a dangerous mistake.

In Dundee the fiercest arguments have focussed on the health risks of the pollutants that the plant will spread over the city. Friends of the Earth Tayside and Biofuelwatch, backed by experts, have calculated that it will emit as much nitrogen dioxide every year as almost two million cars, as well as boosting particulate pollution by 70%.

They point out that Dundee's existing 72,000 cars are responsible for the city breaching European safety limits on air pollution. To try and combat the problem, the whole city has been designated as an air quality management area.

Andrew Llanwarne from Friends of the Earth Tayside urged Dundee City Council to reject the proposed wood-burning power station. "Councillors need to seriously consider the implications of this proposal for the health of local people," he said.

"Air pollution is insidious. We don't see it in the air that we breathe, yet it is doing serious damage to our lungs whilst the fine particulates find their way into our cardiovascular systems. People's deaths may be attributed to lung disease or heart attacks, yet it is often air pollution that has made the condition worse." 

A report by council planners recommends that councillors approve the plant, subject to conditions. An assessment by Forth Energy concluded that 12,748 people would be exposed to nitrogen dioxide from the plant, but that the impact would be "negligible".

Its conclusions, however, have been questioned by Ann Prescott, a retired environmental science lecturer at the University of Abertay in Dundee. She accused the company of using "guesstimates" from 1988 to make the pollution look more acceptable to politicians.

Forth Energy said that it "did not recognise" the figure of two million cars and was "unclear" how it had been reached. It would be more relevant to compare the proposed plant with other forms of electricity and heat generation, which would show significant carbon savings, it argued.

"It these plants didn't deliver carbon benefits, we wouldn't be building them," said Forth Energy's managing director, Calum Wilson. "We comply with all the current regulations and guidelines on the control of emissions."

He pointed out that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency had not objected to the plant, and would be responsible for regulating its pollution. It would produce 100 megawatts of electricity – enough to meet the needs of 90% of Dundee households – and 30 megawatts of heat for nearby businesses. He hoped to get it up and running by 2018.


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Saturday, June 22, 2013

[Biofuelwatch] Biofuelwatch UK June Newsletter

Dear all,  

This is the fourth edition of our monthly newsletter, with details of recent and upcoming events and news from campaigns throughout the UK. We will not be publishing a newsletter in July, but will be back again in August with more bioenergy news. In the meantime, please let us know if you would like more information about particular campaign issues/news. And if you are looking for news about biomass campaigning in the US, then please see 

Also, we would like to apologise to anyone who may have received a spam/viral message through a Biofuelwatch email account (not through our listserve!) One of our email accounts appears to have been hacked, but you will be pleased to hear that it is now secure.

In this Mailout:

1) A New Campaign is Launched: Battersea Against Biofuels
Coal-to-Biomass Conversions Campaign Update
3) Updates on Local Biomass and Biofuel Power Station Campaigns and on Scottish Bioenergy Policy

1) Battersea Against Biofuels

Battersea Against Biofuels is a local London-based group which has recently formed to prevent Sime Darby (the worlds largest palm oil producer and co-owner of Battersea Power Station) from installing a palm oil fired CHP plant on their site. Two campaigning meetings have so far been held, with a Public Meeting planned for Wednesday the 10th of July. Speakers will include Helen Buckland of Sumatran Orangutan Society and Kenneth Richter, FOE biofuel campaigner. More details of the public meeting will be announced on the Battersea Against Biofuels facebook page closer to the time.

Battersea Against Biofuels have engaged with many groups locally and received support from the Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Council. They are also working to educate the planning authority and to convince developers that what they are planning will face significant opposition for wider environmental reasons, but also particularly in light of the local impacts of pollution expected from the plant.

If you would like to get involved or find out more about this campaign then please email us at  and like our Facebook page here:
A link to our briefing paper and our publicity materials are also available from the Facebook page. We are currently having campaign meetings every two weeks, which anyone is welcome to attend. The next will take place on Thursday the 27th of June at 7.30pm at the Victoria pub, Queenstown Road, SW8 3QH.

2) Coal-to-Biomass Conversions Campaign Update

As mentioned in our May newsletter, Biofuelwatch recently obtained data through a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) which highlights how Drax Plc has been misleading MPs and the public over biomass sustainability claims. The documentation received from DECC showed that Drax requires wood from whole trees and not forestry residues or energy crops to run its power station, and that the current supply of this is insufficient for the UK's expected demand. It also showed that, following discussions between DECC and Drax, the company started fundraising for its conversion to biomass three months before new subsidy rules crucial to Drax's plans were approved by Parliament. During a recent biomass debate by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, MPs raised several of the concerns arising from the evidence which Biofuelwatch had obtained and publicised.

Drax have quite clearly been telling DECC one thing and the public another. The fact of the matter is that Drax will be burning huge volumes of pellets made from whole trees mostly from the felling of highly biodiverse forests in North America, and not residues (most of which are too high in bark content for Drax's boilers), short-rotation trees or crops or straw (none of which are technically suitable for coal-to-biomass conversions.) 

In response to these findings, Biofuelwatch issued a press release, which you can view here: 

An article by Biofuelwatch on the subject was also published in Red Pepper entitled "Biomass: The Trojan Horse of Renewables" which can be read here 

In addition to this, an article focusing on where this huge amount of biomass is going to come from to meet increasing UK demand can be read here: 

You may have seen some of the attacks by the Renewable Energy Association (REA), tier Back Biomass campaign (strongly supported by Drax) and others, on the RSPB, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth over their report "Dirtier than Coal" (, and on Professor Timothy Searchinger whose scientific findings were cited in that report. The REA's key argument against these NGOs was that "the paper chooses one scenario, amognst the hundreds examined, that is explicitly rejected by the DECC study".  Now we know for certain, through our Freedom of Information request, that the scenario discussed in that NGO report (wood from whole trees) is the one that applies to all coal-to-biomass conversions (and likely to many future dedicated biomass power stations, too) and thus to most UK biomass capacity!

We just found out that yet another coal-to-biomass conversion has received planning permission. Rugeley Power Station in Staffordshire now has permission to convert to as much as 100% wood, for which they would need to burn pellets made from 7.5 million green tonnes of wood every year. Rugeley Power Station is owned by GDF Suez and Mitsui & Co. So far, three of the now six approved conversions are under way (Drax, Tilbury B and Ironbridge). Dubiously, all of those conversions have been approved as minor alterations to planning permits by local authorities. Rugeley Power Station now brings the projected future UK demand for wood for electricity to around 89 million tonnes a year – almost 9 times as much as the UK's total annual wood production. We have updated our coal-to-biomass conversions briefing to reflect these developments.

3. Update on local biomass and biofuel power station campaigns and on Scottish Bioenergy Policy

Following on from the Secretary of State's decision to approve Peel Energy's biomass power station in Trafford (reported in our May newsletter) Trafford Council has now lodged an application for a Judicial Review to challenge that decision. This is very welcome news and it is heartening to see a local authority prepared to defend the public health and interests of local communities against Peel Energy and Eric Pickles in this way.  We sincerely hope the Judicial Review will be successful.  For more information, please see

In Scotland, Grangemouth residents and campaign groups are outraged by a decision to approve a Forth Energy biomass power station. On the 3rd of June, Energy Minister Fergus Ewing announced that consent has been granted for a huge 120MWe biomass power station in Grangemouth. All members of Grangemouth Community Council have resigned following this decision. Local residents including the Grangemouth Community Council, two other nearby Community Councils as well as campaigning groups Biofuelwatch, two local Friends of the Earth groups and the River Carron Fisheries Management Group had presented detailed evidence against the plans at a Public Local Inquiry held last May.

Walter Inglis, Grangemouth resident and (until his recent resignation) Chairperson of Grangemouth community Council, said in a joint press release: "This is a bad day for the people of Grangemouth who have worsening air quality to look forward to, but it's also a bad day for the people of Scotland because of the wider issues that affect us all. The First Minister has made commitments to climate justice that are now entirely contradicted by the decision from the Energy Minister today." (

The power station will require 1.5 million tonnes of imported wood a year, which according to developers could come from whole trees in the southern US or from highly destructive eucalyptus plantations in Brazil. Contrary to claims that the plant will burn low-carbon, renewable fuel, it will be responsible for vast carbon dioxide emissions. The plant will also cause worsened air quality in Grangemouth, an area with already unacceptable levels of air pollution, as well as a range of other unacceptable impacts.

The decision contradicts the Scottish Government's public position on bioenergy, which states that biomass should be used on a small-scale, decentralised and with high efficiency rates.  Ostensibly, the Scottish Government decision to withdraw subsidies from biomass power stations above 15 MW that are not accredited as CHP was introduced to achieve this aim.  However, Biofuelwatch, Friends of the Earth Scotland and local campaign groups had strongly opposed this policy as being full of loopholes. Across the UK, CHP accreditation can be obtained for biomass power stations of any size that achieve just 35% or less overall efficiency and that make use of no more than a tiny fraction of the heat, possibly just for drying their own woodchips. Now, our fears that such a meaningless definition of CHP would be used as a means for allowing large-scale destructive biomass power stations in Scotland, have been realised. 
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