A sense of perspective

Forget William Hague for now.  This subject is far more essential.  Across Europe today there will be plenty of talk about the agreement struck yesterday to beef up supervision of banks in EU member states.  The agreement gives new EU watchdogs a mandate to overrule national authorities (another reduction in sovereignty) and ban risky financial products that were widely blamed for the world’s worst recession in decades.

This will result in the imposition of a European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) and three new European Supervisory Authorities – a European Banking Authority (EBA), a European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) and a European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA).  But while this is likely to have harmful implications for London as a financial centre, the issues pales in comparison to the essential subject referred to at the start, where EU inflexibility could be a matter of life and death.

The EU’s Renewable Energies Directive (2009/28/EC) mandates a 10% share of renewable energies in transport fuels by 2020.  Earlier this year a report by the International Food Policy Institute (IFPRI) presented to the European Commission advised that going beyond a 5.6% share of biofuels in transport fuel could harm the environment.  It suggested that the EU’s current target is only borderline sustainable because indirect land-use change has “an important effect on the environmental sustainability of biofuels”. While the EU takes comfort from the fact the IFPRI argued that current EU renewable energy targets are small enough to safeguard the environmental sustainability of biofuels, events around the world suggest otherwise.

The Food Security Risk Index of 163 countries, compiled by risk analysis firm Maplecroft, shows that a number of countries are at risk of food shortages.  While it lays the blame for a number of weather events at the door of that catch-all bogeyman, climate change, it nevertheless demonstrates that a number of countries could see their populations going hungry due to food shortages.  This comes at a time when the EU needs an increase in biofuel use to meet its arbitrary targets on renewable energy in transport – resulting in a conflict between feeding people and ticking a box on a piece of paper in Brussels.

Already Russia, a major wheat exporter, has banned grain exports until at least next year to protect its domestic needs after a 25% reduction in the harvest due to drought.  This has forced prices up.  Canada has lost over 15% of its harvest due to floods, adding to the pressure on grain supplies.  The Maplecroft report also details that Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly vulnerable to food insecurity because of the frequency of extreme weather events, high rates of poverty and failing infrastructures, including road and telecommunications networks, which decrease both production and distribution capacity.

Despite this, Friends of the Earth research suggests the demand in Europe for more crops for food and fuel (almost certainly a result of the Renewable Energies Directive) is driving a land grab in Africa.  The report ‘Africa: Up for grabs’ explains how agrofuels are competing with food crops for farmland, and agrofuel development companies are competing with farmers for access to that land.  The land grab is not only increasing food supply insecurity for those Africans who are losing their land, it is also resulting in the clearance of forests to increase the amount of agricultural land for biofuel development.  So far an area the size of Denmark has been bought up to service European demand in just 11 African countries.  The consequences could prove fatal.

The wrongheadedness of the EU’s obsession with biofuels as a way of tackling climate change is clear for all to see.  The possible impact on people who would be affected by food shortages is clear for all to see.  But the EU doesn’t care.  It doesn’t want to change its approach because of the perception that would be created by backing down on such a flagship policy.  It would rather people died from avoidable hunger than the EU be seen as having erred.  Don’t believe me?  Permit me to refer you back to the EU’s response previously carried on this blog.  Barbara Helfferich the spokeswoman for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, offered this startling rationale for refusing to back down on biofuels::

“There is no question for now of suspending the target fixed for biofuels.

“You can’t change a political objective without risking a debate on all the other objectives.”

You couldn’t make it up.  Sacrifice the people for the sake of the greater good.  Doesn’t this remind you of the approach of a certain Soviet leader with a penchant for repression and death?  It puts a lot of concerns in our lives into perspective.

3 Responses to “A sense of perspective”

  1. 1 Richard 03/09/2010 at 2:18 pm

    Properly organised, there is more than enough fertile land in Africa to feed the world, with capacity to spare. Some say the Uganda alone could feed the whole of Africa.

    The essential thing is to wean the locals off low-value, low yield subsistence agriculture, and to move into high value cash crops, which generate some value in the broader economy.

    Producing biofuels for gullible Europeans is a good example, and creates real wealth for the communities … which is why Friends of the Earth hates it. They want to retain the state of dependency … and want REDD, which gives them cash flow and control.

  2. 2 Autonomous Mind 03/09/2010 at 2:23 pm

    I confess I had not considered the subject in those terms. My focus was very much on the harmful effects of EU legislation, which still stand. Your comment is something of an eye-opener and it’s no surprise that a pressure group like Friends of the Earth have their own agenda in this. Thanks for your comment.

  3. 3 kenomeat 10/09/2010 at 10:15 pm

    We should add your article to the reasons for withdrawing. So many reasons, so little notice taken by the broadcast media. I’m thinking of ideas for some kind of publicity stunt; perhaps involving celebrities or sportsmen. Imagine a Premier League goalscorer lifting his football shirt to reveal an anti-EU slogan, or a Ryder Cup golfer making a protest about playing under the flag of the EU. There must be celebrities out there (besides Jamie Oliver and Frank Carson) whose eyes have been opened and who could be persuaded to talk about the EU on live TV; perhaps on one of those chat shows hosted by gay Irishmen or speech-impaired Londoners.
    I know I’m lowering the tone here, but Cameron’s recent support for Turkey has made me desperate.

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