Oxfam report exposes EU lobby firepower of biofuel industry behind destructive bioenergy policy

Published: 25th October 2016

The European Union must overhaul its current bioenergy policy, which is based on getting fuel from plants, because the industry is linked to the eviction of thousands of people from their lands, out-competing food crops, and creating more not less pollution, says Oxfam.

A new Oxfam report today says that a powerful industry lobby has captured EU policy and is resisting its reform. The report tracks the impact of this policy and details cases of communities suffering from loss of land and rights abuses in Tanzania, Peru and Indonesia linked to the ever increasing demand from Europe for crops to produce energy.

The EU is due to review its bioenergy policy in a month’s time. It must end the use of biofuels produced from food or energy crops and food by-products, the anti-poverty organisation says.

“In its anxiety to diversify its energy sources and cut fossil fuels, the EU is instead directly and indirectly causing eviction, poverty, hunger – and more, rather than less, carbon emissions,” said report author, Oxfam’s Marc-Olivier Herman. “The EU has unleashed powerful market forces that are leaving a trail of destruction around the planet.”

The policy has fed a forceful machine behind the scenes also. The lobby of European biofuel producers alone is now as financially powerful as the tobacco lobby and employs 121 lobbyists. That means for every civil servant within the European Commission working on the EU’s new bioenergy sustainability policy, the industry has seven lobbyists working to water it down.

According to newest data in the transparency register, all actors of the biofuel value chain together reported spending over €14m and hiring nearly 400 lobbyists in the previous year to influence EU policy. Together with their allies, they line up 600 lobbyists that outnumber the entire staff of the Commission’s Directorate General for Energy.

This lobby is fighting off calls for reform and instead pressuring legislators to expand the policy, which according to estimates is already costing European citizens €5.5bn to €9.1bn every year, while damaging people’s lives, nature and the climate.

The EU is risking to break its international commitments to sustainable development and jeopardizing its commitments to tackle climate change. On average, food-based biofuels emit 50 percent more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

The EU policy is putting pressure on lands far beyond Europe’s borders. In 2012, over 40% of the land needed to grow crops for EU energy was outside of Europe. Since then, Europe’s reliance on bioenergy imports has only increased.

Oxfam has sounded the alarm about the increasing number of large-scale land deals and the violence linked to them. Many are linked to the growing demand for energy from plants.

Oxfam has tracked cases from Tanzania, Peru and Indonesia where energy crop and palm oil producers have kicked families off their lands where they lived, farmed, hunted and earned their living.

“Bioenergy companies often have free rein because of weak local laws and weak local authorities that fail to recognize land rights for local communities,” Herman said.

In Bengkulu province on the south-west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, a company at the end of the supply chain of European biofuel producers is barring the access of residents to 1000 hectares of land which the local government had allocated to them. The company is threatening the people, destroying their homes and their land.

“We feel very threatened and disturbed. Our life is there. All of our life’s needs come from those plots of land. Why do they always want to seize them?,” asks a resident of Lunjuk village.

Global demand for palm oil is steadily increasing. The EU is among the world’s top three importers. As available land in South-East Asia diminishes, the industry is aggressively seeking to expand  from Indonesia and Malaysia into new areas such as the Amazon region – palm oil’s new frontier. Again, people are being forced off land they have depended upon for centuries.

“Our lands have been devastated, all the forest is gone, and the streams are completely churned up and blocked. There is now only one stream we can still use for clean drinking water”, says a community leader from the Santa Clara de Uchunya in the Ucayali region of the Peruvian Amazon.

“The EU policy lacks even basic criteria for social sustainability and human rights, making it impossible to bar European biofuel producers from sourcing palm oil lands where communities’ human rights and right to land have been violated and abused,” Herman said.

Oxfam is calling on the EU to invest more instead in energy efficiency and in fuel sources that are genuinely sustainable. It must include indirect carbon emissions from changes in land use as it accounts for its emissions cuts. It also must insist without fail that European bioenergy companies are getting the prior, free and informed consent from local communities in their supply chains.

Notes to editors

  • Read the full reportBurning land, burning the climate”. It is also available in French and Spanish.
  • The author of the report, Marc-Olivier Herman, is available for interviews.
  • On 30 November 2016, the Commission is expected to table a new Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and a Bioenergy Sustainability Policy as part of its 2030 climate and energy framework. Currently, biofuels and other forms of bioenergy make up over 60 percent of the energy that the EU labels as “renewable” and promotes as part of its policy to mitigate climate change.
  • The Renewable Energy Directive, the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) and the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) have been the main drivers of the increase in unsustainable bioenergy consumption under the EU’s current 2020 climate and energy legislation.
  • To ensure the EU’s 2030 bioenergy policy aligns with commitments under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris climate agreement, Oxfam calls on the EU to:
    • end the use of biofuels produced from food or energy crops and food by-products;
    • adopt a comprehensive and binding set of environmental and social sustainability criteria for all bioenergy, including respect for the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of local and indigenous communities; and
    • increase policy incentives in the transport sector and other sectors for energy savings, energy efficiency and truly sustainable renewable energy sources.
  • Oxfam estimates of the EU lobbying ‘fire power’ of the biofuel industry and its allies are based on the EU Transparency Register:
    • European biodiesel and bioethanol producers alone report spending €3.7m - €5.7m and hiring 121 lobbyists. Their spending puts them on par with the tobacco lobby, which reported spending €5m in 2015.
    • The estimated ‘firepower’ of the entire biofuel value chain which includes European biofuel producers as well as European farmers and other feedstock growers, large commodity traders and processors, and technology providers amounts to 399 lobbyists and €14.5-€19.5m.
    • Allies of the biofuel industry supporting biofuel mandates – fuel providers, automotive industry players and actors of the wider bioenergy and energy sectors – add another 198 influencers and €21.8m–€24.6m to the EU-lobbying firepower of the industry.
    • Taken together, the biofuel industry and its allies have a total of 600 lobbyists and €36.2m–€44.1m at their disposal. This means they have the potential to outnumber the entire staff of the Directorate General for Energy of the European Commission. They have a spending capacity comparable to that of the pharmaceutical lobby, which in 2015 had a declared lobby spend of just under €40m.
  • These figures have been calculated using data on human resources and spending dedicated to EU influencing reported by industry players in their latest annual submission to the EU Transparency Register. Figures include in-house lobbyists, trade associations, consultancies and law firms working for the industry. The data is available upon request.
  • Oxfam’s figures are likely to be conservative due to the voluntary nature of the Register: close to one in every three influencer identified by Oxfam (46 out of 151) is not present on the Transparency Register. A detailed methodology is included in the annex of the Oxfam report.
  • The cost to citizens of the EU and the member states’ bioenergy policies is difficult to measure due to its often indirect nature. Tax payers and consumers are paying through direct subsidies, tax exemptions and mandates such as binding blending targets.
  • According to estimates, citizens have paid several billions of euros to the biofuel industry directly or indirectly. The International Institute for Sustainable Development estimated that in 2011 the biofuel industry had received between €5.5bn and €6.9bn from European governments through tax exemptions and from consumers obliged to pay more at the fuel pump. The OECD’s International Energy Agency estimates the amount of public support for 2011 at €8.8bn. The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission estimates EU 28 biofuel tax exemptions in 2013 at €9.1bn. For France alone, the French Court of Auditors has estimated that tax exemptions granted to biofuel producers from 2005 to 2014 added up to a €3.6bn subsidy to the industry.
  • According to a study published by the European Commission, 40% of the land needed to produce bioenergy for the EU is located outside the EU.
  • According to United States Department of Agriculture projections for 2016, the EU is globally the number 2 importer of raw palm oil, with India and China respectively on place 1 and 3.
  • Based on new data on land sales under contract, Oxfam’s report “Murder and eviction: the global land rush enters new more violent phase” says that millions of people face being displaced from their homes.
  • Oxfam, together with other NGOs, has published detailed policy recommendations on the use of bioenergy in the EU 2030 climate and energy legislation.
  • In its report “Common Ground: Securing land rights and safeguarding the earth”, Oxfam lays out detailed policy recommendations for the protection of indigenous and community land rights.

Contact information

Florian Oel | Brussels | florian.oel@oxfaminternational.org | office +32 2 234 11 15 | mobile +32 473 56 22 60

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