Agrofuels – the current status of the threat they pose to civilisation on Earth

[This is a guest blog of mine that will appear shortly on the excellent ACTION AID website, as part of their very welcome ‘biofuels action debate’]


Let’s start with this, from the agrofuels-mad U.S. of A.: One remarkable detail that stands out in this (worrying) article is that the Environmental Protection Agency (sic.) analysis here accounts for the reduction in food consumption which is associated with using foodstuffs for fuel as a GHG benefit… Quick translation: Starving people is supposed to be good for the planet!

That moment of madness tells you a lot about the rise of agrofuels, which is all about profit, and none about reducing GHG emissions, let along about being good for people.


The issue of land-use being altered away from food toward fuels is big in Europe right now too. Take this newspaper headline, again from just last week: “Four environmental groups have sued the European Union’s executive for withholding documents they say will add to a growing dossier of evidence that biofuels harm the environment and push up food prices:”

In November 2008, eight of the largest agrofuel-producing countries, including Brazil and Indonesia,
threatened the EU that they would go to the WTO if restrictions on agrofuels-influenced land-use change were not
removed: this was following a massive lobbying effort by agrofuel companies in Brussels. Yet land-use-effects have by far the greatest negative climatic impacts of agrofuels. Removing any land use restrictions gives producer countries a free licence to destroy vital ecosystems and habitats. …Bottom-line: If we want to feed people, rather than cars, and if we want to stop rainforests etc. being trashed to set up monocultures, then we must stop agrofuels companies and mass-producer states from dominating the debate. The actions of these four environmental groups in taking the EU to court over this is thus very welcome.  


But there has been bad news as well as good lately for those of us campaigning against agrofuels. Take this, for instance:
The recent draft communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament on the sustainability of biofuels says natural
forests have to be protected. But the devil is in the definition of a forest. The document says: “Continuously
forested areas are defined as areas where trees have reached, or can reach, a height of five metres, making up a crown cover of more than
30%. They would normally include natural forest, forest plantations and other plantations such as palm oil. This means that a change from
forest to oil palm would not per se constitute a breach of the criterion [for sustainability].”
If plantation bosses succeed in redefining palm oil as forestry then that will attract double subsidies from European taxpayers – for managing
forests and for producing agrofuels. Double subsidies – for ripping up rainforests!


The hugest long-term threat posed by the agrofuels business is in greenwashing aviation. The aviation industry is ‘committed’ to reducing their CO2 by more than 90% by 2050. This is simply and utterly impossible, given the industry’s massive expansion plans. So the aviation industry pretends that they will put the entire aviation sector on to agrofuels, and greenwashes their emissions in the process. The problem is that agrofuels, in part for the reasons given above, are far more destructive to the environment (in most cases) than kerosene…


Last but not least, check this out: . This email, that some MEPs received last week from the dismal Burston Marsteller PR firm, and that at least one of them had the courage to pass onto us and thus to make public, will give you some idea of the kind of massive lobbying effort that the agrofuels profiteers are currently engaged in, as they endeavour to replace biodiversity and resilience with monocultures – and temporary profits.


I’ve been campaigning against industrial biofuels for nearly a decade now. It is absolutely vital that we have politicians in Westminster as well as in Brussels who are committed to being truly green, not to the ludicrous greenwash of agrofuels. Please think about that, in the run-up to May 6th.


[Many thanks to Andrew Boswell, Mark Crutchley and other friends and colleagues who helped me research this piece.]

3 thoughts on “Agrofuels – the current status of the threat they pose to civilisation on Earth”

  1. Dear Rupert,

    I would be most interested in your opinion on the use of the Jatropha Tree for Biofuels, as it is possible to grow on marginal land that is unsuitable for food crops, would you approve of this type of biofuel generation?

    Kind regards

    David Garner

  2. David; I’ll get back to you on this tomrrow.

    Here is the location of the piece on ACTION AID, btw:

  3. Basically, Jatropha is a massive land grab AND the crop doesn’t working the way it is marketed (something which will grow in high yield on reclaimed (or grabbed) land). Generally, yields are low unless it is grown on previously well cultivated land and it will likely fail anyway as a commercial viable idea for this reason. You can find more info here:
    Here is a fascinating case-study in the decline of the Jatropha dream:
    D1 have been on the City takeover pages since Nov 12th with no bidders, see:
    They are basically in terminal decline because Jatropha doesn’t add up commercially. Myserson [the boss] was trying to turn it into a sugar ethanol company – see:

    _D1 Oils chairman quits after losing biofuel fight_

    Mar 16 2010 By Christopher Knox, The Journal

    D1 oils

    THE chairman of biofuel company D1 Oils has stood down after his plans to change the focus of the business were rejected by fellow board members.

    City figure Brian Myerson has been pressing D1’s senior executives to shift from planting biofuel crops to producing biofuels.

    But his plans have been rejected and Mr Myerson, whose company owns 27% of D1’s shares, has stood down from the board. A statement from D1 Oil, which began life in the North East, said that Mr Myerson had left the board with immediate effect, with non-executive director Barclay Forrest assuming the role of chairman.

    A spokesman for D1 Oils said: “Mr Myerson wanted to use D1’s funds and infrastructure to develop in Mozambique, while at the same time ceasing work on the jatropha project.

    “This was strongly rejected by the board and Mr Myerson has stood down so that the company can continue trading with an agreed strategy.

    “However, he is still a major shareholder and the company will continue to include him in further discussions.”

    The spokesman also said that the board was now committed to growing the business, despite announcing in November that it had received a number of takeover approaches.

    AIM-listed D1 Oils, which was founded by North East entrepreneur Karl Watkin, has now planted 544,000 acres of the jatropha plant in areas including India and South Asia, and plans to use it in the production of bio-diesel.

    The move has been welcomed by Mr Watkin, who still owns shares in the company and who said that the situation had been extremely disruptive.

    He added: “I am relieved that this matter has been resolved and am grateful to Barclay Forrest for keeping calm during this situation.

    “I believe that he will now be able to bring some cohesion to the business after what has been a very challenging and divisive time for the board.”

    It is understood that Myerson had been at loggerheads with the company’s board of investors since November, when he proposed that it issue new shares to raise money to buy sugar ethanol business Principle Energy, which he is setting up in Mozambique.

    Mr Myerson is said to have then planned to refocus the business by investing in a new plant in the African region and ditching D1’s jatropha- growing programme.

    D1’s shift in focus has seen the company move away biofuel production, which has resulted in the closure of refineries in Teesside and Merseyside two years ago, with the loss of 90 jobs.

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