The True Impact Of Biofuel Mandates

In honor of the Cancun climate change gathering, I suppose, Ace of Spades HQ brings us another example of green schemes gone awry.  The EU’s biofuel targets are requiring massive land clearance, displacing farmers, and risking the food security of poor communities.  But it’s all in Africa, so Euro greens can sleep comfortably in their Cancun lounge chairs this afternoon:

[T]he production of biofuel also has huge social impacts that the Commission has chosen to ignore completely in its sustainability criteria. More than five million hectares of land – an area bigger than Denmark – is needed to grow the amount of biofuel that Europe projects it will need annually in 2020 and beyond. The national action plans clearly show that most member states do not have enough land available to meet this increase in demand. They are therefore looking to plug the gap through imports – the UK, for example, expects to import almost 90% of its biofuel by 2020.To provide the biofuel needed to meet the EU’s targets, EU companies are busy buying up land. But in doing so, they could cause another food crisis in Africa.

The land that is being bought by EU companies is not standing idle. Small-scale farmers – producers of half the world’s food – are having their land taken away, often under duress, to make way for the crops needed to meet EU targets. At a time of already high food prices, they are losing their land and, with it, their ability to grow their own food.

The food security of poor communities – and nearly one billion people around the world currently go hungry – is being put at risk.

Well, maybe they shouldn’t slumber so peacefully.  Biofuel production also increases greenhouse gas production:

Studies by ActionAid and our partners show that biofuels are often more damaging than the fossil fuels they are replacing. The EU’s targets require mass land clearance and existing production to be moved. Once this change in land use is taken into account, the projected level of the EU’s demand for biofuel in 2020 will result in the release of an extra 27-56 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year into the atmosphere – equivalent to an extra 12m-26m cars on our roads by 2020.

At least biofuels are also expensive to produce and energy inefficient!

Don’t forget — we are doing the same thing in the U.S., spending billions of dollars on corn-ethanol subsidies.  That is a mistake.  We absolutely should not be distorting the energy market and diverting food into the production of an inefficient fuel.

But biofuels also illustrate a larger point.  One of the reasons government should not be in the business of selecting winners and losers in the market is the law of unintended consequences.  No matter how brilliant the planners are, they suffer from an information deficit.  They don’t know all of the impacts that will result from any given policy.  Government policy always has unforseen effects, and those effects are often unwelcome.

Published in: on December 9, 2010 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  

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