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EU Biofuel Panic Threatens Planet - Brazil Envoy

Date: 22-Sep-08
Country: BELGIUM
Author: Pete Harrison

"What I fear is the debate over biofuels has taken on a very emotional character and we have somewhere got lost in this emotion," said Maria Celina de Azevedo Rodrigues.

"Once, biofuels were seen as the salvation, and all of a sudden they are the devil."

Environmentalists charge that biofuels made from grains and oil seeds have pushed up food prices and forced subsistence farmers to expand agricultural land by hacking into rainforests and draining wetlands.

"Right now, biofuels is one of the answers to at least slowing climate change," said Rodrigues.

"If we continue to condemn biofuels, by the time we find something else, the patient will be dead. We could kill the patient through excess prudence."

The European Commission has proposed that 10 percent of all road transport fuel comes from renewable sources by 2020, without specifying how much of that should be derived from biofuels, renewable electricity or hydrogen.

That huge potential market for biofuels is coveted by exporters such as Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as European farming nations. But the European Parliament last week agreed a 6 percent limit for fuels from foods such as Brazilian sugar.

DEFORESTATION

The EU is also drafting a swathe of complex quality controls that protect rainforests but also try to define and protect other land-types, such as grasslands of high biodiversity, savannah and areas of high conservation value.

"We're not pushing cattle up to the north of Brazil into the rainforest. That's not a true assessment of what is going on," said Rodrigues. "The degradation is derived by speculators, by people who want to use the timber."

"There has been greater control ... We've increased the number of people patrolling and we have better satellite control."

"This is helping it to slow, but production of sugar cane is growing, and it's not to the degradation of rainforest. There is not a cause and effect linkage," she said.

Rodrigues said arguments that biofuels had pushed up food prices had been proved false by the fact food prices were now falling in tandem with oil prices, which had previously inflated costs of fertiliser and transporting food to market.

"I revel in seeing that sugar has fallen on the international market, because there's an excess," she said. "How do (critics) equate that with the theme that prices have gone up because of ethanol from sugar cane? That theory is not true."

Rodrigues also criticised EU trade barriers that hinder developing countries from exporting goods other than raw commodities. Biofuels could be one rare exception.

"Biofuels can be one of Africa's first opportunities to sell value-added products," she said. "We hear a lot of beautiful speeches about how we have to help Africa... but this kind of thing is killing it on its own."

(Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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