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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Wolfowitz and the World Watch Institute agree: biofuels can boost developing world

The BioPact has some problematic news: both the World Trade Organization and the WorldWatch Institute are agreeing that biofuels and bioenergy can boost third world countries. The BioPact knew it would come to this, so we are now faced with lots of questions about social justice. If green energy becomes a commodity like any other, then we must insure that the poor bioenergy farmers in the South get their fair share of the cake. It would be all too easy for big multinationals to throw themselves on this market, and to crush those who should benefit most from it.
For the time being, let's keep a neutral stance and look at the WorldWatch Institute's announcement about the major study it commissioned. The study to assess the potential and economics of our bioenergy future was produced by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation - the leading experts when it comes to analysing development issues.

As worldwide fuel consumption continues to rise, experts say biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol are becoming more attractive energy alternatives.

'Biofuels have the potential to meet a significant share of our global transportation needs,' said Christopher Flavin, president of the WorldWatch Institute.

Such fuels not only aid the agriculture industry but can also enhance trade relations and transportation opportunities, especially in developing countries. But their environmental merits and cost-efficiency are still being debated.

All agree, however, that some sort of alternatives are needed. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Bush called for increased support for renewable energy sources, decrying America`s addiction to oil.

The Department of Energy says fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas provide more than 85 percent of energy consumed in the United States; 55 percent of that is imported. But the problem is not solely domestic. Energy crises loom in many countries, particularly developing nations.

A new report by the WorldWatch Institute says biofuels will not only provide better fuel sources for individual countries, but with increased international cooperation can also help foster better trade relations.

The WWI study, which was released Wednesday, was co-sponsored by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation, known by its initials GTZ, and the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.

'There has only been limited trade to date, but developing centers would encourage investors to date and the (World Trade Organization) is beginning to explore this as well,' Flavin said.

The United States and Germany, along with Brazil, have expanded their biofuel research and production in recent years. The countries tout the mutually beneficial collaboration among their energy and agriculture sectors. The United States has seen success from producing ethanol from corn, while Brazil continues to use sugarcane to produce ethanol. Germany was the worldwide leader in biodiesel production in 2005 with 2,920 million liters.

'Energy drives the economy,' said Klaus Scharioth, German ambassador to the United States. 'Mobility is an important aspect of any society.'

Germany`s development of conversion centers looks to be a model for other nations. Centers like the GTZ are funded by both government and private investors. The substantial input from both sectors has allowed them now to look beyond their borders to how similar technologies could benefit developing nations, particularly in rural areas. Promoters of the program say expanding fuel production would not only bring jobs to the area, but subsequently increase transportation and bring more infrastructures to the region.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz praised the multilateral efforts, agreeing that increasing biofuel industries in developing nations would have positive impacts across the board.

'Biofuel is near the top of our agenda,' he said. 'It`s an opportunity to add to the world`s supply of energy in an environmentally friendly way.'

Wolfowitz also advocated repealing tariffs that were discouraging the international trade of biofuels.

'We should remove unnecessary trade barriers that make biofuels less accessible,' he said.

Expansive benefits could felt domestically as well, especially by Americans in the farm belt.

'Rising costs of oil are a go signal that something has to be done,' said U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Thomas Doer. 'Biofuels are great for our national security, our economy, our environment, and farmers as well.'

Doer said he believes that decreasing dependency on foreign sources of oil will positively impact tense foreign relations.

'Many of us look forward to a day we can power our cars with ethanol from the Midwest rather than oil from the Middle East,' he said.

However, some say that scenario is too idealistic. Biofuel production in the U.S. is still in its infancy when compared to countries like Brazil, and the environmental concerns must also be weighed against other perceived benefits.

Brazil`s experimentation with alternative fuels began in the mid-1970s and was largely forced by the government. In a capitalistic society, such a method would not be successful, said Dan Hassey, senior research analyst with the Gold and Energy Advisor.

'The U.S. needs to realize it took Brazil a long time to achieve their success. Sugarcane burns better than corn for ethanol, and they have cheap land, labor and better climates,' he said.

Hassey said he does not believe corn ethanol is cost-efficient and added that environmental concerns are still substantial.

'If scientists work on ethanol, they can add additives where it won`t be as corrosive. Biodiesel, over time, is a good incentive, but you have to get all the car manufactures and infrastructures to adapt. It`s going to take time and a huge amount of investments and governments have to create incentives,' he said.

Klaus conceded that questions remain over which fuels hold the most promise and the adverse impact they pose to the environment, but maintained that biofuels still remain the best answer to America`s oil problems.

Hassey did agree with the WWI`s endorsement of creating biofuel plants in developing countries with appropriate climate and soil conditions.

'Developing countries can not only help their own economies but also if they do it well enough they can export for cheaper than foreign oil,' he said.

But questions still remain over whether political maneuvers will trump genuine incentives abroad.

'The answers are the right political policies, technology and engineering. But as consumers, we won`t see anything take over oil in the next five years,' Hassey said. 'For now, we`re stuck with high oil prices.'

Full article

In oil crisis, bioenergy is only part of the answer

Bioenergy is at the centre of the EU energy debate right now. After the Biodiversity Week and the EU Energy Summit of last week, some clouds are disappearing over the real potential of bioenergy. Euractiv reports that biomass and biofuels are set to cover an ever-increasing share of the EU's future transport and heating needs. But it is certainly not the magical solution, according EU environment chief Stavros Dimas.

The EU has set itself a target of increasing the share of biofuels in transport to 5.75% by 2010. At their annual spring summit in March 2006, EU heads of states and governments suggested that this target could be increased to 8% by 2015, pending further impact analysis.

Bio-energies derived from wood, waste and agricultural crops, are set to grow in importance in the coming years to help the EU out of its oil addiction. But their negative impact in terms of toxic emissions and pollution from over-exploitation of land means they will have to be kept under tight control.

Speaking at a biofuels conference organised by three leading environmental NGOs in Brussels on 7 June, EU environment chief Stavros Dimas said a balanced solution needs to be found in developing bioenergies.

"The Commission needs to consider carefully how policies can best increase use of biomass without damaging the environment, and this must also cover biofuels," Dimas said, conceding that the Commission's policy in this field is "still very much under development".

However, there are some certainties. First, he said, a 360° view is needed on the use of energy derived from biomass, whether in the form of waste, wood or energy crops. "Using biomass for heating and electricity is cheaper and provides far greater avoidance of fossil energy and CO2 than converting biomass to biofuels," he told the conference.

At the same time, he said more biofuels should be called for to help the transport sector out of its oil addiction. "The EU stands to become almost 90% dependent on imported oil in 2030. The present target of 5.75% biofuels by 2010 ensures a basis for development efforts in this sector," Dimas said.

But the current techniques used in biofuels production, which are mainly derived from agricultural crops (so-called 'first generation' biofuels), means the EU will likely not meet this target, Dimas said.

"So-called 'second generation biofuels' seem to have much lower overall greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts than the first generation biofuels that dominate production in the EU today," Dimas said. "They also offer higher potential for production and cost reductions, as they can be based on biowaste with fewer competing end-uses".

However, while the EU waits for a significant contribution of second generation biofuels to the EU's transport sector's energy needs, imports from large producing countries like the US or Brazil will need to be raised.

Investment in second generation bio-fuels may be particularly relevant for the road transport sector, Dimas went on to say, as they can contribute to meeting CO2 emissions reduction objectives. The EU is trying to persuade carmakers into reducing CO2 emissions from new vehicles to 120g/km, down from the 140 g/km that they already agreed to achieve by year 2008-2009.

Should they fail to meet this target, Dimas said "the Commission will consider measures, including legislative ones, to ensure that the necessary reduction of CO2 are delivered".

The three environmentlal NGOs organising the conference (the European Environmental Bureau [EEB], BirdLife and Transport and Environment [T&E]) called on the European Commission to introduce sustainability safeguards as part of the ongoing revision of the Biofuels Directive.

"Without safeguards, greenhouse gas (GHG) savings will be negligible, biodiversity will be harmed, and ultimately the public could reject biofuels if they are not seen to be a credible environmental alternative to fossil fuels," the three said.

On 1 June, the French government launched an experimental scheme in the Marne region to run a fleet of seven Ford Focus cars running on 85% ethanol (E85). The so-called flex-fuel is currently not authorised in France but its use is already widespread in Brazil and Sweden. Industry minister François Loos said France was aiming for the approval of E85 early next year with the fuel expected to become widely available by 2010. Renault said it will make half of its cars flex-fuel capable by mid-2009.

"Our objective is simple: we want, by the end of the decade, the market to offer cars that can drive equally with gasoline or with a biofuel that is almost pure," said Loos. France has set itself a target of 7% biofuel use by 2010 and 10% by 2015 (EurActiv 19 May 2006).

On 7 June, the French government set up a biofuels working group to develop steered by former F1 champion Alain Prost. Called "Flex fuel 2010", the group, which brings together the oil industry, farmers, carmakers and consumers, will aim to draw a biofuels action plan during the course of the summer.


Full article

Thursday, June 08, 2006

EU agency warns over increased biomass use

The BioPact gets another boost. Today, EU energy ministers emphasised that the use of biomass as an energy source should be increased, but the same day the European Environment Agency launched a new report which also warned that too much biomass production could harm the environment.

"It needs to be done in a sustainable way," said author of the report, Tobias Wiesenthal from the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency (EEA).
In the report "How much bioenergy can Europe produce without harming the environment?" Mr Wiesenthal points out that the 2010 EU targets for the use of biomass across the bloc "can be met and even exceeded" but that "it had to be done the right way."

We at the BioPact think that "the right way" consists of looking South, to the developing world, where much more biomass can be produced using much less land, guaranteeing an income to the world's poorest and creating an environment in which they can lift themselves out of poverty and food insecurity.

The EU must manage the rise in the production of biomass in line with other policies and objectives it has, aiming to protect biodiversity and not producing more waste, he said in his report.

The document calls for the implementation of environmental guidelines at local, national and European level.

Biomass is an organic matter that can be used to create electricity, heat and fuel for transport and is mainly made from waste, grass, corn and trees – basically the same as fossil fuels used to create oil and petrol with the difference being that it has not processed over millions of years.

At the moment it provides two thirds of the renewable energy produced in Europe.

The report argues that a large scale production of biomass from agriculture, forestry and waste across the union might put additional pressure on farmland and forest biodiversity as well as starving soil and water resources.

It could also counteract current EU objectives on waste minimisations or environmentally-oriented farming.

The European Commission in December adopted a plan on increasing the use of biomass energy across the EU bloc to reduce Europe's dependence on imported energy, cut greenhouse gasses and protect jobs in the bloc's rural areas.

It was this plan that EU energy ministers welcomed on Thursday, stating that member states should increase their use of biomass as an energy source.


Full article

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Some common environmentalist objections to biofuels - BioPact reacts

On the eve of the EU's Energy Council, when the Union's biofuels strategy will be discussed once again, it may be useful to list some common objections to the drive towards green transport fuels. Obviously the BioPact disagrees with some of those, but an open debate is crucial. The European Federation for Transport and Environment lists the following objections, to which we quickly add our comments (we have done so earlier):

1) The displacement of land-uses that are important to biodiversity. The most immediate risk is losing agricultural ‘set-aside’ land. European farmers are required to set aside some of their land and put it out of production. While not an environmental measure, set-aside has had huge benefits to wildlife and has become a critical part of the European farmed landscape, acting as a refuge for farmland biodiversity.

BioPact: this is indeed a strong argument, but irrelevant to the pact, since we focus on biofuels imports from developing countries. There land is plenty and underutilized.

2) The harmful impact of energy crop ‘monocultures’ (concentrated growth of a single crop over wide areas), excluding the plants and animals which would otherwise contribute to the ecosystem, making fields ecological semi-deserts. Intensifying the production of energy crops, including new types like miscanthus (elephant grass), also increases use of fertilisers, energy and pesticides, which further damage the environment and contribute to climate change. Biofuel growth can aggravate existing threats to bio-diversity.

BioPact: the biodiversity argument must be weighed off against the opportunity for development in the third world. Agriculture cannot do without fertilizers and in the developing world it makes sense to introduce them much more. Today's developing world agriculture is often environmentally destructive (slash and burn), and is based on land extension, instead of on intensification. It may be more environmentally friendly to introduce modern farming techniques to the third world, than to let destructive farming practises flourish. Introducing the biofuels opportunity in the third world may be a leverage with which to modernise agriculture in the South.

3) Losing natural habitats of global importance for wildlife and carbon storage, such as the Indonesian rainforest and the Brazilian Cerrado, through importing biofuel feedstocks. Cultivating vast plantations of palm oil, sugarcane and soy may also cause soil erosion, harm water quality and bring social problems, such as displacing native people and small farmers.

BioPact: in fact, many studies suggest that the palm oil industry thrives on smallholders who put their land to use and who make a good living out of it. One cannot expect a small land owner not to use his fields for the most commercially interesting crop, or to sell his land to multinationals.
The BioPact strives towards enhancing local farmers' ownership in biofuel production. We explicitly reject a push towards monopolisation by large agro-industrial multinationals, and we take this threat seriously.

4) The solution is to ensure that o­nly the right kind of biofuels, those produced sustainably which genuinely offer major greenhouse gas benefits, are eligible for public support and count towards public targets, such as the EU target of replacing 5.75% of transport fuels with biofuels by 2010. A mandatory certification system for biofuels must ensure minimum production standards are met and confirm eligibility for public support.

BioPact: if this implies that the opportunity for poor farmers to lift themselves out of poverty is blocked, then we reject any certification scheme. The EU already keeps millions of farmers in poverty with its agricultural subsidies. Now biofuels and bioenergy production offer a chance for those farmers. If the EU once again puts its own criteria over the lives of millions, then we firmly object.

However, the BioPact supports attempts to create a social certification system. We think social sustainability must be included in the debate.

5) Biofuels are o­nly o­ne of many technologies which reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their role is restricted by limited available land and competing land uses. Biofuel development must therefore be part of a broader energy policy focusing o­n energy saving and efficiency.

BioPact: this speaks for itself.

6) Biofuels are often termed ‘carbon neutral’ as they generally come from organic material that is then re-grown. In fact, production causes substantial GHG emissions, mainly from making and using fertilisers and from fossil fuels use in processing. Using biofuels may even cause more emissions than conventional fuel. Savings can be increased through good crop management and minimising fossil fuel use in processing and fuel transport.

BioPact: this argument is false. Many bioenergy and biofuel production processes can be entirely green: transport of feedstock can be biofuel based and processing can be biofuel based (as is the case in Brazil, where sugar mills produce excess electricity from waste biomass, which is fed to the grid).

7) Biofuels are not an unlimited resource. We need land to grow biomass for fuel, and our fuel demands are so vast that even small targets require major land-use changes. This has a major impact o­n bio-diversity and the environment. A Commission-sponsored study1 found that meeting the EU’s target of replacing 5.75% of fossil fuels with biofuels would consume 14-27% of EU agricultural land. To meet the biodiesel target, 192% of 2005 EU oilseed production would be needed, or 14% of the forecast world production in 2012. This target cannot alone be met by domestically-produced biofuels. The EU will need major imports of biofuel and biofuel feedstocks to supplement domestically-produced crops.

BioPact: this is exactly the opportunity which the BioPact has spotted: biofuel production promises to lift millions of poor farmers in the tropics out of poverty.

We hope that the EU does not again deny those farmers an opportunity that may better their lives.

Full article

European environmental organisations warn EU over sustainability of biofuels

The BioPact considers environmental sustainability to be a top priority when designing the bioenergy future. Today, on the eve of a key meeting of European energy ministers to discuss the EU’s biofuels strategy, three European environmental organizations have issued a warning to the EU, saying that policies promoting biofuels may cause more environmental damage than the conventional fuels they are designed to replace if important environmental safeguards are not put in place.

The three organizations—the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), BirdLife International and Transport and Environment (T&E)—issued their call to the European Commission at the conference, A sustainable path for biofuels in the EU, organized by EEB. The EU energy ministers tomorrow begin debating the EU's Biomass Action Plan, published in December.

Without introducing sustainability safeguards, the groups state, reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be negligible, biodiversity will be harmed, and ultimately the public could reject biofuels if they are not seen to be a credible environmental alternative to fossil fuels.

According to an EU-sponsored study, meeting the EU’s target of replacing 5.75% of fossil fuels with biofuels would consume 14-27% of EU agricultural land. To meet the biodiesel target, 192% of 2005 EU oilseed production would be needed, or 14% of the forecast world production in 2012. As a result, meeting the 5.75% biofuels target will force a greater reliance on imports.

Climate change and biodiversity loss are among our most pressing challenges. We must urgently reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. But we must tackle climate change and biodiversity loss in tandem. Biofuels are only part of the solution. Unless we produce biofuels sustainably, we’ll end up with more energy-intensive and environmentally damaging farming practices and hasten the degradation of our ecosystems.
—John Hontelez, EEB Secretary General

The three environmental organizations want only biofuels that are produced sustainably and which offer substantive greenhouse gas benefits to be eligible for public support and count towards public targets, such as the EU target of 5.75%.

Read Fuelling extinction? Unsustainable biofuels threaten the environment at the European Federation for Transport and Environment.

Full article

Cuba chooses jatropha for biodiesel

Due to their high "energy intensity", economically poor countries suffer most under rising oil prices. Cuba is such a country. The land of Fidel has always been very creative in finding appropriate solutions to social and economic problems (within the limits of the communist state system), and it is now logically turning to biofuels.
Even though the island is receiving much needed cheap oil from Venezuela, Cuban planners think it is wise to invest in alternatives.
Cuba is choosing Jatropha Curcas for biodiesel, and obviously sugar cane for ethanol.

The following is from Politicalaffairs.net - "Marxist thought online":
Rocketing oil prices have made Cuba search for less polluting energy sources as biofuels.

According to a report by the Cuban News Agency (ACN) for a number of years, scientists look for alternative solutions to substitute oil and nuclear energy with less polluting sources like, wind, hydro and bioenergy.

Brazil started producing bioethanol from sugar cane as raw material and by 2003 it was producing 9.9 million tons a year. All the gasoline sold in the South American country carries 25 per cent of biofuel by law.

France has already 30 cities where public transport runs on that fuel. Still, oil represents over 35 per cent of all primary energy in the world. Coal is in second place with 23 per cent and natural gas supplies 21 per cent.

Biofuel reaches barely 10 per cent of world energy balance. Cuba, for many years now, has been developing interesting experiences with biodiesel, using the Jatropha curcas, bush known in Spanish as pinon de botija.

The initiative is encouraging if it is taken into account that one hectare of this crop can yield over 1.5 thousand liters of biodiesel.

Full article

Major study says biofuels poised to displace oil

The WorldWatch Institute announced today that it releases a major study showing the global potential for transport biofuels. The study was produced by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation, which is the world's leading centre of expertise for research into development cooperation issues.
This study, which explicitly focuses on the possibility of third world countries becoming bioenergy powerhouses, is excellent news for the BioPact: it shows that our Pact makes sense and that it will define our green energy future.

Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel can significantly reduce global dependence on oil, according to a new report by the Worldwatch Institute, released in collaboration with the German Agencies for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and Renewable Resources (FNR).

Last year, world biofuel production surpassed 670,000 barrels per day, the equivalent of about 1 percent of the global transport fuel market. Although oil still accounts for more than 96 percent of transport fuel use, biofuel production has doubled since 2001 and is poised for even stronger growth as the industry responds to higher fuel prices and supportive government policies. “Coordinated action to expand biofuel markets and advance new technologies could relieve pressure on oil prices while strengthening agricultural economies and reducing climate-altering emissions,” says Worldwatch Institute President Christopher Flavin.

The new report, Biofuels for Transportation: Global Potential and Implications for Sustainable Agriculture and Energy in the 21st Century, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV), is a comprehensive assessment of the opportunities and risks associated with the large-scale international development of biofuels. It includes information from existing country studies on biofuel use in Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Tanzania.

Brazil is the world’s biofuel leader, with half of its sugar cane crop providing more than 40 percent of its non-diesel transport fuel. In the United States, where 15 percent of the corn crop provides about 2 percent of the non-diesel transport fuel, ethanol production is growing even more rapidly. This surging growth may allow the U.S. to overtake Brazil as the world’s biofuel leader this year. Both countries are now estimated to be producing ethanol at less than the current cost of gasoline.

Figures cited in the report reveal that biofuels could provide 37 percent of U.S. transport fuel within the next 25 years, and up to 75 percent if automobile fuel economy doubles. Biofuels could replace 20–30 percent of the oil used in European Union countries during the same time frame.

As the first-ever global assessment of the potential social and environmental impacts of biofuels, Biofuels for Transportation warns that the large-scale use of biofuels carries significant agricultural and ecological risks. “It is essential that government incentives be used to minimize competition between food and fuel crops and to discourage expansion onto ecologically valuable lands,” says Worldwatch Biofuels Project Manager Suzanne Hunt. However, the report also finds that biofuels have the potential to increase energy security, create new economic opportunities in rural areas, and reduce local pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases.

The long-term potential of biofuels is in the use of non-food feedstock that include agricultural, municipal, and forestry wastes as well as fast-growing, cellulose-rich energy crops such as switchgrass. It is expected that the combination of cellulosic biomass resources and “next-generation” biofuel conversion technologies—including ethanol production using enzymes and synthetic diesel production via gasification/Fischer-Tropsch synthesis—will compete with conventional gasoline and diesel fuel without subsidies in the medium term.

The report recommends policies to accelerate the development of biofuels, while maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks. Recommendations include:

* Strengthen the Market. Biofuel policies should focus on market development, based on sound fiscal incentives and support for private investment, infrastructure development, and the building of transportation fleets that are able to use the new fuels.

* Speed the Transition to Next-Generation Technologies. It is critical to expedite the transition to the next generation of biofuel feedstock and technologies, which will allow for dramatically increased production at lower cost, while minimizing environmental impacts.

* Protect the Resource Base. Maintaining soil productivity, water quality, and myriad other ecosystem services is essential. National and international environmental sustainability principles and certification systems are important for protecting resources as well as maintaining public trust in the merits of biofuels.

* Facilitate Sustainable International Biofuel Trade. Continued rapid growth of biofuels will require the development of a true international market in these fuels, unimpeded by the trade restrictions in place today. Freer movement of biofuels around the world should be coupled with social and environmental standards and a credible system to certify compliance.

The report’s findings were discussed today at a conference on Capitol Hill hosted by Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin and GTZ Director General Peter Conze. Participants included policymakers and representatives of the private sector, governments, international agencies, and nongovernmental organizations.

Speakers at the opening session included World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz; Thomas Dorr, Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and German Ambassador to the United States, Klaus Scharioth. Other conference speakers include R. James Woolsey, Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton and former Director of Central Intelligence; John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress; and representatives from DaimlerChrysler AG, Iogen Corporation, and CHOREN Industries, as well as Suzanne Hunt and other contributors to the biofuels report.

A brief summary of the study can be found here[*.pdf], but there is also a more extensive summary[*.pdf].

Full article

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.

By Laurens Rademakers

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Boom in ethanol increases demand for rail services

The BioPact analyses the systemic and structural changes that will take place in economies and energy infrastructures when the global transition to bioenergy is implemented.
One effect of the current boom in ethanol, for example, is the increasing demand for rail services. Both the biomass feedstock and the final product, the liquid biofuel, is transported by railroad and waterways. In the future, when the paradigm shifts to bioenergy for good, a system of dedicated biofuel pipelines might be the answer. Brazil is already building such a network.
For the time being, however, rail is used in the U.S., with the result that overall shipping prices increase. Iowa's ethanol industry offers an interesting case study.

Iowa's ethanol industry is spurring an increase in demand for rail service to ship the fuel across the country.

The state is expected to produce 1.3 billion gallons of ethanol this year. Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe have seen shipments soar and they, along with other rail companies, are hustling to keep pace.

Jim Glawe, controller for the Corn LP ethanol plant in Goldfield, said fuel produced at the north-central Iowa plant is being shipped to gas stations across the country, from California to Virginia.

Glawe said shipping ethanol by rail is less expensive than by truck.

"You can ship some by truck, but the freight economics of it mean that St. Louis is about as far as you want to go," he said.

It's simply less expensive to transport ethanol over longer distances by railroad, Glawe said.

At Pine Lake Corn Processors, in Steamboat Rock, the lower cost of shipping ethanol by rail has allowed the company to create its own short-line railroad.

The line will connect to both the Canadian National Railway in Ackley and the Union Pacific in Marshalltown.

Pine Lake now transports its ethanol by track to Ackley, where it is transferred to railroad tank cars.

The state currently has 25 ethanol plants, making it the country's largest ethanol producer.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has been providing financial assistance to help new ethanol plants build rail spurs to provide connections to railroad lines.

Five ethanol plants have received a total of $485,000 in state grants. Two others have received state loans totaling $650,000.

"Rail is a very integral part of the delivery of ethanol currently to the East and West coasts, and potentially down to Texas ..." said Larry Mesenbrink, IDOT rail development manager.

Officials with Union Pacific and BNSF said they are working to accommodate the ethanol industry.

Union Pacific is helping to speed the flow of ethanol by investing in track projects near several Midwest ethanol plants, said Mark Davis, a Union Pacific spokesman.

"I can tell you that ethanol is an ever-increasing commodity group for us," said Mark Davis, a Union Pacific spokesman.


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Zimbabwe: Government Sets Jatropha Target - 80,000 hectares

Jatropha curcas is an excellent energy crop that thrives on marginal soils and survives droughts. Zimbabwe - a country suffering under a severe food, climate and energy crisis - is implementing part of its renewable energy policy by planting 80,000 hectares of the small shrub by the end of the year. It will provide an excellent test-case to see whether Jatropha really keeps its promises.

80,000 hectares does not sound like much, and indeed, it comes down to a mere 2000 barrels a day (to put it in petro-terms). But for Zimbabwe, each barrel it doesn't have to import, counts.

The target was announced last week by the director of Renewable Energy and Conversation in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, Mrs Elizabeth Muguti. She was speaking at a field day held by Environment Africa and Tree Africa at Mr Chimusoro's farm in Beatrice last Friday to assess progress of the project. Mr Chimusoro is one of the first farmers in Zimbabwe to embark on massive jatropha production and has since planted more than 1 000 jatropha plants at his 480 hectare farm. "According to our national project by the year 2010, 10 percent of our diesel will come from jatropha. For us to achieve this we have set a target of 80 000 hectares to be put under jatropha," Mrs Muguti said.

She said Government has also set targets for each province to produce at least 10 000 trees of jatropha by the end of 2006. "We can achieve this and all we have to do is for every farmer to grow the plant," she said. Mrs Muguti said Government has also come up with incentives such as out-growers schem es for farmers growing more than five hectares of jatropha. "The Government, through the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, has since launched a programme to support farmers who want to grow more than five hectares of jatropha. "There is an out-growers scheme for farmers interested in growing jatropha. Farmers get free seed and support on how to grow the plant," she said.

Mrs Muguti noted that Government was set to announce more incentives to encourage farmers to embark on jatropha farming. She also said although the main focus was to extract bio-diesel from the multi-purpose plant, Government would also soon look into other products such as soap and organic fertilizers that can be produced from the plant.

In a speech read on his behalf by his ministry's deputy secretary, Mr Irvin Kunene, the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Cde Francis Nhema, said it was pleasing to note that Government's calls for farmers to grow jatropha were now paying dividends. He said Zimbabwe like several countries in the world was faced with fuel shortages caused by a range of factors including disturbances in oil-producing countries and import costs. "The Government has come up with alternative measures in terms of fuel supply and one of these measures is the production of bio-diesel from jatropha," Cde Nhema said.

He said feasibility studies have shown that it is possible and viable to produce bio-diesel from jatropha and there are several benefits that can be derived from the plant. The minister also took the opportunity to mark the beginning of the green ribbon week. The green ribbon week is commemorated during the week on which the World Environment Day falls and this year it is being celebrated from June 5 to 11 June. Mr Chimusoro also demonstrated how the bio-diesel extracted from jatropha could run a Lister T52 engine used by most grinding mills and water pumps in rural areas. Other farmers from the district also had a chance to sample some soap produced fro m jatropha that was made by Tree Africa.

The Herald (Harare).

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