Clare Coffey, Policy Advisor, ActionAid UK
Momentum seems to be gathering around the Rio+20 energy discussions, thanks to the UN Secretary General’s initiative on Sustainable Energy for All. The initiative sets out three specific objectives on doubling renewables and energy efficiency improvement rates, as well as securing universal access to energy. The three objectives could well be reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals, which are tipped as being the main outcome of the June Summit.
While a true commitment to securing energy for all has to be welcomed as a means to fulfil basic human rights, there is justifiable concern that the initiative will not in fact achieve that. Instead, the fear is that the sustainable energy initiative will be used as a way of promoting inappropriate industrial scale energy facilities in developing countries, worsening the situation of the world’s poorest and only benefitting big companies.
There are particular concerns around the inclusion of large scale biofuels and hydro, as well as nuclear among ‘renewable’ energy definitions. Human rights abuses linked to EU biofuels policy are the subject of an ActionAid report, Fuel for Thought: addressing the social impacts of EU biofuels policies, launched last week in Brussels. According to this, biofuels are the most significant driver of global land acquisitions, with International Land Coalition data suggesting that 37 million hectares of land have been taken globally for biofuels. Biofuels have also played a significant factor in world food price spikes and volatility – with the IMF, World Bank and eight other international organisations calling on G20 countries to remove biofuels mandates and subsidies. Hundreds of millions of people have been adversely affected by biofuels, undermining poverty reduction and economic development efforts.
Staggeringly, biofuels are also no answer to climate change. For the EU alone, official biofuel plans could result in annualised additional emissions of 65 million tonnes CO2, which would be like putting another 29 million cars on Europe’s roads.
In fact, there is much to be learned from the EU. In 2008, the EU reached an agreement for 20% renewable energy by 2020, including a 10% sub-target for renewable energy in transport. This has turned into a de facto biofuels target and has been the cause of huge controversy ever since, with governments now struggling to extricate themselves from the situation. The Rio+20 negotiators must learn from these mistakes and ensure that biofuels are ruled out of the sustainable energy discussions. Anything else would be unforgivable.
Fuel for Thought: addressing the social impacts of EU biofuels policies, ActionAid International, April 2011, http://act.ai/fuel4thought
Bowyer C, Anticipated Indirect Land Use Change Associated with Expanded Use of Biofuels and Bioliquids in the EU – An Analysis of the National Renewable Energy Action Plans, IEEP, updated by B Kretschmer, March 2011 http://www.ieep.eu/assets/786/Analysis_of_ILUC_Based_on_the_National_Renewable_Energy_Action_Plans.pdf