<body> -------------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home » Archive » Social_justice
Nature Blog Network

    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.

Creative Commons License

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Social justice and biofuels - the West's historic CO2 and deforestation debt

The BioPact gives priority to social justice. Bioenergy offers an opportunity for millions of poor farmers in the tropics to lift themselves out of poverty. The switch to biofuels can change global power relations, and it partly promises a way out of the huge social inequalities that still exist in our globalised world.

However, if it were up to North Americans and Europeans, this opportunity will not materialise. They are keen on destroying it. Environmentalists and agro-lobbyists on both sides of the Atlantic are beginning to close the ranks. They are giving the first signs that they will attempt to ban the import of cheap biofuels from the South. They will do everything in their power to deny third world people to use their potential wealth. With its agricultural subsidies, the West already keeps millions of people in poverty. And now they will once again deny these people access to one of the few markets where they can be competitive, in this case the Euro-American biofuels market. They will do so either through tariffs or 'green certification' systems or any other strategy as long as it results in an effective barrier to market entry. The Biopact vehemently objects to these attempts.

To put it in simple terms: now that Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia finally have a golden chance to produce a billion dollar commodity, competitively, they are told that they can't sell it in the West, because it is not produced in an 'environmentally friendly' way. Let's have a look at how environmentally friendly Europe and North America have been in the past. On what kinds of green practises their wealth and modernity have been based.
Now that they no longer have any forests to destroy (they did so long ago), they are lecturing others to preserve theirs. No problem, as long as those same Americans and Europeans are willing to finance that conservation, and the missed opportunity for modernisation and the creation of wealth.

America's history of deforestation

Let's have a look at the historic deforestation rate in the United States. When the first settlers arrived in the country, they found America to be heavily forested. Native Americans had thrived using very balanced conservation techniques and careful forestry practises. The European settlers were few and for centuries the forests remaind more or less intact, covering some 65% of the land surface.
In the middle of the 19th century, modernisation and industrialisation began to take a hold, with dramatic effects. In 1850, 60% of the entire country's land was still covered with forests. A steady flow of immigrants who were to make America, led to population increase, which required more land to be converted for agriculture. In 1850, America's total population was around 23 million.
Less than 70 years later (1920), the population had grown to 106 million. America was now fully industrialised, urban centres had been established and a transport infrastructure covering the entire nation had been created. By then, America's forests had almost entirely disappeared. A mere 15% of land was still covered with forest, even though the bulk of it was scattered and patches of large, uninterrupted forest zones didn't exist any longer.
Obviously there's a correlation between America's deforestation rate and its GDP growth rate. Real GDP increased from $44bn in 1850 to $609 in 1920 (for historic GDP numbers, see Economic History Services). From then onwards, there were no more forests to log, no more land to convert and America had become a prime agricultural producer. The country was now ready to make the transition from a mainly agriculture based economy to an industrial one (the 20th century).

Economic growth equals deforestation

What this short overview shows us is that the U.S. (and Europe) have only been able to grow their economies by deforesting their land, until virtually no tree was left to log. The demographic explosion, resulting in strong population growth, and in an increase in life expectancy, put pressure on the land, and required an agricultural sector able to feed this modernising and rapidly growing number of people. Deforestation continued until virtually all the land was converted into agricultural land.

Today, the situation is very similar in Central Africa, Latin America and South East Asia. Of course, these regions have all the rights to develop and to modernise. Similarly, they are experiencing strong population growth. Many of those countries are not heavily industrialised yet. Some even still have to make the transition towards modern agricultural systems. Obviously, in most, the agricultural phase coincides with the industrialisation phase (whereas in the US and Europe, these phases were historically distinct and followed each other smoothly).

To cope with population growth, tropical forests are going. Environmentalists often describe this as a disaster for humanity: not only invaluable biodiversity is threatened, they argue, but humanity as a whole is at risk, because of the global warming effects of this deforestation.

This simple argument makes sense, as long as we leave the debate about development, modernisation, historical context, and social justice out of the equation. If we take these factors in, we are confronted with a dilemma. Is there a simple way to make the developing world conserve its forests, while at the same time allowing them to modernise and grow their economies? The answer is obviously "no".

But there might be a politically incorrect, though workable way. The BioPact thinks that the only way to come with a positive approach, is to start devising a strategy which consists of transfering some of the "modernity" and "historic deforestation credit" from the highly developed North to the South. If the West was so lucky to get away with mass deforestation in the past, but wants to prevent the same happening in the South today, it should come up with some kind of compensation.

Historically contextualised "Deforestation Credits"

Our proposition is simple: there is a strict correlation between population growth, GDP growth and deforestation rates. The West, which destroyed all its forests, and which has become highly developed, should share part of its wealth in the form of "deforestation credits", which developing countries can use to preserve their forests, while being still being able to growth their economies.
Let's quickly make the parallel with "carbon credits" as they exist in Europe's emissions trading scheme. They work as follows: the state sets a certain limit on the amount of CO2 that participants may emit. Those who emit less, receive a carbon credit which can then be traded on a market. Those who still want to emit CO2 must buy a credit. It is of course crucial that the overall effect of this scheme results in a general decrease of emissions.

Now a similar scheme is perfectly workable to curb deforestation in the South. A limit on deforestation is agreed. Those who log less than they were allowed receive a credit, which can be bought by other countries who still want to deforest. Thus, for the country that does not deforest, the option of "cashing in" the credit exists. The capital it receives this way, can be used to invest in infrastructure, energy, industry, services or any economic sector that doesn't require deforestation.
The West (North America, Europe) takes the financial burden of the credit.

In order to estimate the value of a credit (which represents a patch of intact forest), the historic correlations between economic growth, population growth and deforestation, as they exist for America's and Europe's deforestation history, have to be taken into account. This calculation would include: the lost opportunity of income from the land and the lost opportunity to use the economic leverage which would have come from this income.

We think such a scheme is the only way to make sure that the South does not make use of its obvious right to convert forest areas into agricultural land.

The question now is: will the West take its responsibility? If not, it has no authority whatsoever to lecture others on forest conservation, given its own past.

Edit, August 2006: at the time we wrote this piece, we were not aware of some NGO's work on the concept of 'compensated reduction'. It comes very close to what we described as 'historic deforestation credits'. Only, our concept is much broader. Compensated reduction merely refers to a mechanism that limits deforestation by compensating farmers today for not logging forests. The compensation is simply and merely tied to the price of carbon on the European market. It does not take into account the opportunity costs as they are inscribed in history: the missed chance for development and the missed chances for social justice as they stretch out over the long-term (and as they are illustrated by Europe's and North America's economic history). The compensation as it is proposed merely looks at an amount of CO2 saved by not logging a forest and puts a market price on it. This is of course highly reductionist and a merely environmentalist way of looking at the matter. We want a 'socially corrected' and a 'historically corrected' form of compensated reduction, that carefully takes into account the economic and social history of the West as it is tied to deforestation.

By Laurens Rademakers


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home