James Kanter, New York Times Green Inc. Blog
ActionAid, an antipoverty group, has stepped up a campaign against European Union policies aimed at encouraging consumers to use fuels grown from crops to power their cars.
The group last week staged mock “land grabs” in which members worked the soil and erected models of gasoline pumps in front of the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen. They also demonstrated in Milan and near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
“Land is quickly becoming the new gold and right now the rush is on,” Fatou Mbaye, a biofuels officer for ActionAid in Senegal, said in a statement issued by the group. “Poor communities are being pushed off their land to meet the demand for biofuels in Europe.”
The 27 member countries of the E.U. have agreed to generate 10 percent of their fuel for transport from renewable sources by 2020. A large proportion of that target is expected to come from biofuels. ActionAid is seeking to highlight the potentially negative effects of biofuels to discourage governments from following through with that plan.
Scientists still are trying to work out whether biofuels represent a significant savings in greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil fuels, and whether the kinds of targets mandated by Europe will lead to a serious increase in global food prices.
There are also conflicting views among experts about the benefits for countries where many of the crops are grown.
Some groups like World Growth, a nonprofit organization that favors free trade and globalized markets, say that increasing demand for fuels from crops would provide an increase to incomes in the developing world.
But groups like ActionAid contend that such demand would adversely affect land rights and food security among people who already are vulnerable to hunger or eviction.
In Britain, The Observer newspaper also has likened activities by major agricultural companies to a 21st-century land grab aimed at supplying the wealthy world with fresh flowers, all-season vegetables and biofuels for cars.
ActionAid said E.U. companies had already acquired, or had requested the use of, farmland in developing countries that would cover an area equivalent to the size of Denmark for growing crops for fuels.
It said farmland equivalent to half the size of Italy would be needed by the end of the decade to meet the E.U. target.