EU Environment Ministers favor biofuels industry over people and planet

Published: 21st March 2013

In reaction to today’s EU Environment Ministers’ biofuels debate, Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s EU Policy Advisor, said:

“The Ministers’ silence on the impact of biofuels on poor countries is simply shameful. Apart from a small number of countries such as Denmark, almost all EU Member States have put the interests of an unsustainable biofuels industry before those of people and the planet. We’re very disappointed about the lack of leadership by Germany, France and the UK as they could tilt the balance towards a less reckless policy.  

“The EU must stop this absurd trend of using food for fuel, and to rapidly phase out all support to land-based biofuels. European consumers are unknowingly financing hunger and environmental destruction in poor countries through the billions of euros they pay as a result of mandates, tax incentives and subsidies to biofuels. I’m sure that if they knew that biofuels were helping to push up food and fuel prices, they’d want their leaders to do something about it.”

Examples from the field

Many smallholder farmers in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia are suffering the consequences of the rapid expansion of biofuels production happening in their communities. The mass production of crops such as soy, sugarcane and palm oil means that small-scale farmers are not only getting pushed off their land, but are experiencing human rights violations, food insecurity and health problems.

Nilfo Wandscheer of FORMAD, a family farming association in Mato Grosso, Brazil, said:

“Our communities are small islands in a big sea of soy. The prospect of more biofuel crops, such as soy, being grown in our communities is worrying to us, as we will end up with no land on which to grow the crops that we need to feed ourselves and make a living.”

Rinting Siten of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), Indonesia, said:

“Palm oil has slowly but surely destroyed the lives of indigenous people in Indonesia. Large-scale palm oil plantations are not only threatening regional food security, but we can now no longer drink from the river, as it has been so badly polluted by agrotoxins. This is having grave consequences on people’s health.”

Notes to Editors

Oxfam is calling on the European Union to:

  • Endorse a genuine and robust ‘cap’ to limit the use of land-based biofuels to prevent competition between growing crops for food and for biofuel, and to take Europe off a transport pathway that is reliant on land-based biofuels. The proposed European Commission policy only limits the quantity of ‘food based’ biofuels that EU Member States can count towards the 10% target. We want the EU to amend the proposal to make the ‘cap’ an absolute limit on the amount of ‘land-based’ biofuels (biofuels made from food crops and from dedicated energy crops) that can be subsidised or mandated by EU member states.
  • Account for the full carbon footprint of biofuels. Greenhouse gas emissions from the displacement of agriculture on to forested land and carbon sinks (ILUC) remain unaccounted for. Current proposals introduce only reporting on ILUC (Indirect Land Use Change) emissions. The proper accounting of carbon emissions, including from ILUC, is essential to make sure that the promoted biofuels do not undermine the EU’s climate change objectives.
  • Ensure that advanced biofuels are truly sustainable and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The best way to do this is via feedstock-specific ILUC factors combined with binding sustainability criteria.
  • Make road transport greener by promoting long-term and sustainable solutions. This proposal presents an opportunity for the EU to send a clear signal to markets that the future of green transport lies in innovative energy saving and renewable electricity technologies with high potential for emissions savings, mobility, job creation and economic benefits – not biofuels with damaging impacts on global food security and the environment.

Read the report: The Hunger Grains: The fight is on. Time to scrap EU biofuels mandates
(September 2012)

Oxfam's research on climate change

Contact information

Angela Corbalan on + 32 473 56 22 60 or