Sun May 13th, 2007 at 09:48:49 PM EST
The more reports come out, the more it is becoming apparent that the use of biofuels in the form of ethnanol (or indeed most forms of bio-diesel) is a false road to prevent global warming. Bush's push for it must therefore be seen as the policy of Mr Micawber, the belief that "something will turn up" to avoid the need for radical changes. Indications are that again he is gearing up to emasculate the outcome of the upcoming G8 discussions on global warming and lay landmines for a future administration.
What I want to bring together are three news items that appear at first to be separate but when taken together must inform future energy policy. That, I would suggest, is not a case of substitution, as in ethanol for gasoline but avoiding usage as in investing in public transport and radically changing infrastructure and work patterns to avoid the current levels of travel for work.
The first report comes from the Co-Operative Insurance Society. This is part of the Co-Operative movement in the UK. Starting as a means of getting low cost good quality food for the working classes, their remit now extends to sustainable and ethical farming and into other ethic fields. The Bank for example has strict lending and investment policies. The source should therefore not be regarded as coming from the usually suspicious oil industry lobby.
Unfortunately the full report is not available on line so I have to refer to the BBC coverage of it. It points to problems we are already seeing in Mexico. Growing crops for conversion to fuel is at the expense of growing food for the poor.
The Co-op report claims there is a future for biofuels, but current targets for growing so much fuel could have unintended consequences, BBC correspondent Damian Kahya says.
Professor Dieter Helm, a senior advisor to the British government, told the BBC: "The sort of targets being set for biofuels will have quite radical effects on agriculture and therefore will have very substantial consequences for food prices and agriculture more generally."
The report says that around nine per cent of the world's agricultural land may be needed to replace just 10% of the world's transport fuels.
This means the production of biofuels could lead to a decrease in land available for food production in countries where famine already exists.
Professor Helm also points to another problem with using biofuels:
People are felling rainforests to plant crops to grow energy fuels, biofuels," Professor Helm said.
"Think of the energy involved in felling those rainforests. Think about the damage to the climate being done by the loss of those trees. Think about the ploughing and the cultivation of fields.
Here we should move on to the front page of Monday's Independent. The main, indeed the only story, is how deforestation play by far the greatest role in global warming.
The accelerating destruction of the rainforests that form a precious cooling band around the Earth's equator, is now being recognised as one of the main causes of climate change. Carbon emissions from deforestation far outstrip damage caused by planes and automobiles and factories.
The rampant slashing and burning of tropical forests is second only to the energy sector as a source of greenhouses gases according to report published today by the Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of leading rainforest scientists.
Figures from the GCP, summarising the latest findings from the United Nations, and building on estimates contained in the Stern Report, show deforestation accounts for up to 25 per cent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases, while transport and industry account for 14 per cent each; and aviation makes up only 3 per cent of the total.
"Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change," said Andrew Mitchell, the head of the GCP.
Scientists say one days' deforestation is equivalent to the carbon footprint of eight million people flying to New York. Reducing those catastrophic emissions can be achieved most quickly and most cheaply by halting the destruction in Brazil, Indonesia, the Congo and elsewhere.
Here at least there is suggested an immediate, practical and effective proposal to reduce the rise in global warming. Paying those countries with the forests to preserve them in a massive form of "carbon offsetting". Unfortunately it seems such moves are going to be further delayed by Bush with an attempt to gut the statement after the coming G8 meeting.
The (US) administration has made no official comment concerning the G8 draft. But the US's proposed revisions, obtained by BBC News, mark a fundamentally different stance.
A clause saying "climate change is speeding up and will seriously damage our common natural environment and severely weaken (the) global economy... resolute action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions" is struck out.
So are a statement that "we are deeply concerned about the latest findings confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)", and a commitment to send a "clear message" on international efforts to combat global warming at the next round of UN climate talks in December.
US negotiators also want to remove from the draft firm targets for improving energy efficiency in buildings and transport, and a call for the establishment of a global carbon market.
"I think the real objective (of the US negotiators) is not just to keep the lid on and have nothing happen while President Bush is in office, but they are trying to lay landmines under a post-Kyoto agreement after they leave office," commented Philip Clapp, president of the Washington-based National Environmental Trust, who has seen the US's proposed amendments.
"It lies in the hands of Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Merkel, whether it's all sweetness and light or whether they are prepared to stand up and say 'I'm sorry, but the rest of the world is moving in a different direction from you'," he said.
All the Democratic candidates should make a joint stand against such binding of future administrations' options. It seems that Boy George is going beyond monarchy and wants to issue Papal Bulls.
(cross posted from Daily Kos)