Greenpeace backs use of biofuels, but warns of ‘land-use implications’

- Katherine Adraneda -
An international environment group yesterday expressed support for the use of biofuels in the country, but sent a stern warning to the government on the "land-use implications" of biofuel crops.

Greenpeace said that while it is a positive development that the government is starting to acknowledge the urgent need for alternatives to fossil fuel energy sources, it should not be fooled into thinking that biofuels are the ultimate answer to pressing energy and environmental issues.

There are concerns regarding the environmental and social impacts of increased biofuel use, Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Jasper Inventor said. Thus, he noted that biofuel energy source "must be used in conjunction with other measures — both political and social — in order to be sustainable."

"Biofuels are not a silver bullet to ensure energy security," the group said.

For instance, Inventor said biofuel crops have land-use implications.

He said that the development of biofuel plantations must not result in the devastation of intact forest areas, which is among the unacceptable trends currently taking place in Indonesia.

"Available agricultural land is a finite resource, and demand for bio-energy crops could inevitably lead to increased competition for land between food and non-food uses," Inventor explained.

This developed as an initial 20 plants will be built in the provinces to produce "green fuel" for local use and for export, Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday.

Zubiri, principal author in the House of the Biofuels Act, told a news forum that proponents of the 20 plants have already applied for incentives with the Board of Investments (BOI).

"The plants, whose papers are now being processed by the BOI, will generate tens of thousands of jobs for our people," he said during the forum held at the Serye Café’ in Quezon City.

Of the 20, Zubiri said 15 would produce bio-ethanol, which can be blended with gasoline, while five would manufacture bio-diesel, which can be mixed with diesel.

He said the plants would be located in provinces growing sugar cane, cassava and sorghum, from which ethanol could be extracted, and those planted to coconut and jathropa trees, from which bio-diesel could be taken.

Among the provinces investors are considering are Laguna, Quezon, Leyte, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Bukidnon, Basilan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Davao del Sur, and Iloilo, the lawmaker said.

Zubiri pointed out that even Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, and other tobacco-producing areas in Northern Luzon are being considered provided that tobacco farmers shift to crops and plants that produce ethanol and bio-diesel.

"Apparently, tobacco farming is increasingly becoming a losing proposition because more and more people are turning health-conscious and giving up smoking," he pointed out.
According to Inventor, biofuels should be limited only to those grown within the framework of sustainable agriculture, do not directly or indirectly lead to the destruction of intact ecosystems, and do not hinder the ability of any nation to achieve food security and sovereignty.

He stressed that bio-energy crops should not compete with food crops in areas or countries where agricultural land is needed to ensure food security.

"These land-use concerns are particularly worrying, especially when it concerns global trade with developed nations such as Japan and European Union member-countries, aiming to import biodiesel from developing nations," Inventor said.

"Displacing biodiversity and food security needs in developing countries in order to feed Japanese or European cars poses serious moral questions," he added.

Aside from creating thousands of jobs, Zubiri said the production of biofuels would bring about a "cleaner, greener environment."

"Studies have shown that a 10 percent blend of ethanol with gasoline results in a 30 percent reduction of poisonous carbon monoxide and cancer causing benzene," he said.

This is the reason why many countries around the world led by the United States are now promoting the use of biofuels, he said.

He said Japan plans to mandate five percent mixing of ethanol with gasoline by the year 2010. — With Jess Diaz

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