Dec 25, 2008

Fuel for the rich or food for the poor?

Fraser Nelson - UK

Is biofuel a cause worth dying for? Or, more specifically, is the West so sold on the idea that we’re willing to let the poor starve as we fill our cars with the grain it would take to feed a man for nine months? This FAO report from the United Nations counts the damage: 75 million more in undernourished this year as a result of higher crop prices. And, as we now know, from a leaked World Bank report, biofuel production is responsible for three quarters of these price increases.

The UN is in a tricky situation here, as it also organises the IPCC – a collection of the world’s environment departments. So while not apportioning blame, the UN report does name environmentalism as an aggravating factor:-

The emerging biofuel market is a significant source of demand for some agricultural commodities, such as sugar, maize, cassava, oilseeds and palm oil. The stronger demand for these commodities caused a surge in their prices in world markets, which in turn has led to higher food prices.

Biofuel demand is likely to continue its rapid growth, partly driven by high oil prices and government policies partly by slow developments in widespread adoption of second generation biofuels and technologies…. The proportion of the world’s arable land devoted to growng biomass for liquid biofuels could triple in the next 20 years.

People are starving on this small planet of ours, and the rich world grows crops to put into our cars. Britain should have nothing to do with this, but we don’t have control. A 2003 EU Directive commits us to having 5 percent of petrol and diesel sold come from biofuel by December 2010. This directive was agreed before it was clear the harm that biofuels does to the world’s poor. Gordon Brown actually understands the biofuel and poverty issue. He wants to pick a fight with Europe next year, this one has his name written all over it.

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