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Insight, debate and campaigning news from ActionAid

Shifting away from land-based biofuels

Tim Rice's picture Posted by Tim RiceBiofuel Policy Advisor

Understanding EU politics isn't easy at the best of times. But an important debate is on-going about the future of biofuels in Europe, and in member states.

Thanks in part to the efforts of ActionAid supporters, there is growing recognition that the use of food crops to fuel cars is having a range of negative impacts. They are driving food prices higher, fuelling land grabs in developing countries - and many of these biofuels will not reduce any greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to fossil fuels they are replacing. Only industry remains largely in denial.

So the European Commission recommended that current food-to-fuel biofuels should be capped at 5%. Whilst there are many loopholes in this proposal - and ActionAid would like a cap set at 0% to cover all biofuels that are specifically grown on land - it is a step in the right direction. 

But the question remains, if we don’t want to use land-based biofuels, what are the alternatives? The UK is still obliged under EU legislation to find 10% of transport fuels from renewable energy by 2020. One option is electric vehicles – both vehicles and trains – always assuming they are powered by renewable electricity.

ActionAid commissioned the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) to also look into sustainable alternatives from more advanced biofuels that potentially could be available by 2020. These alternatives require a new technology and are not currently in commercial production. But one of their greatest advantages is that they can be produced from domestic wastes and residues, some of which is discarded. In short, these feedstocks do not directly use land or food crops.

Clearly, the UK needs to be producing a lot less waste; but there is potential for using, for example, food and other biological waste to produce biogas; and ethanol from agricultural straw as a substitute for petrol.

The IEEP report found that this domestic wastes could contribute over 3% of UK transport fuels in 2020. Under EU laws, they are allowed to count double (ie over 6%) towards the UKs 10% transport target. Together with electric vehicles, this could get us a long way towards the target.

This is always assuming they are produced sustainably, both in terms of volumes extracted and their environmental and social impact. Many of these wastes and residues already have existing and better uses; for example in the board or paper industries where effectively the carbon is locked away.

But the sustainability of these feedstocks is still not assured and ActionAid is demanding that the UK government undertakes a series of actions before we embark on greater use of wastes and residues. ActionAid is therefore not endorsing any particular advanced biofuel feedstock or technology.

But the upside of moving towards these sustainable biofuels is that they would create green jobs, potentially up to 10,000 by 2020. They have much better GHG savings compared to conventional biofuels, and they wouldn’t push up food prices or fuel land grabs because land and food are not directly involved.

Sustainable and domestic biofuels will always be in limited quantities. One of the most efficient and quickest ways to reduce our dependence on oil and save greenhouse gas emissions is to have much greater fuel efficiency in vehicles. But first we must wean developed nations off their thirst for food-to-fuel biofuels; the G8 in June is the next opportunity.

Book your space for exciting campaigner events!

Ema Jackson's picture Posted by Ema JacksonCampaigns Assistant

I am really excited to say that on Monday we have two brilliant young African ActionAid campaigners joining us here in the London office – Elly Ahimidiwe from Tanzania and Joy Mwakisambi from Kenya. They are in the UK for a month to join us on the Enough Food For Everyone.. IF campaign in the run up to the G8 summit in June.

I can’t wait to meet Elly and Joy and hear all about their experiences of campaigning in their own countries. And you can meet them too – we are holding 4 events in the coming weeks which will give you the opportunity to hear from them. 

The first event is in London on Wednesday 22 May and will discuss why we need to push the G8 leaders to tackle the causes of hunger, and how we can do this. It will also be a brilliant opportunity to meet other supporters of the IF campaign and ask any questions you may have. I hope to see you there!

The second event is in Manchester on Thursday 23 May and will be an evening of conversation and films learning more about land being taken without permission in East Africa. This is an issue with which Elly and Joy have a lot of first-hand experience so will be really interesting to hear their perspective.

The next event is in Edinburgh on Thursday 30 May and will be a film screening of ‘A River Changes Course’ and panel discussion. The film has been described as breathtakingly beautiful, and the panel includes Humza Yousaf Scottish Minister for International Development, so this promises to be a great evening.

And finally, if you can’t make it to any of these locations then worry not – we are holding an online event too. We are running an online panel discussion on 29th May at 7pm which will be available live on YouTube. For this event Elly and Joy, plus some other exciting IF campaign speakers, will be answering your questions you have about the issues central to the campaign. Keep an eye on our Facebook page and Twitter for more details, which will be released in the next week.

So do come along and meet the brilliant Elly and Joy, or submit a question for the online discussion, and join me in welcoming them to the UK. I am sure that they will have loads of interesting stories and inspiring campaigning ideas that we can learn from.

“Food Not Fuel” field of wheat springs up outside Parliament

ActionAid campaigners take the call for Food Not Fuel to Westminster
ActionAid Campaigners take your call for Food Not Fuel to Westminster
Photo: Kristian Bruus/ActionAid

Almost 9,000 of you from across the UK have taken action over the last year to stamp out the use of biofuels that cause hunger. This week we took your call for Food Not Fuel to the heart of Westminster.

Thank you to the 9,000 supporters from across the UK who have taken action over the last year to stamp out the use of biofuels that cause hunger. This week we took your call for Food Not Fuel to the heart of Westminster.

Yesterday the ActionAid Campaigns team woke up at the crack of dawn to build a giant ‘field of wheat’ on the doorstep of Parliament, ready to greet MPs on their arrival at work, each symbolic grain representing a pledge of support.

We invited MPs to come and show their support, and we were really pleased with the response. Loads of MPs from across the Parties came over - some even getting inside the field, which was no mean feat!

Check out and share some of the fantastic images on Facebook and Twitter.

As we told MPs, there’s a crucial vote coming up in Europe in June on the future of European biofuels policy, so the UK Government has a huge opportunity now to take a lead and ensure we end the use of food for fuel.

With the UK hosting the G8 summit this year, and committing to act on the causes of hunger, we’re calling for the UK to use this international stage and push for action from other G8 nations.

Join us to send this message to David Cameron loud and clear, and rally against hunger at The Big IF event in Hyde Park on Saturday 8 June. Let’s tell our leaders we won’t tolerate the injustice of global hunger in a world where there is enough food for everyone.

The elephant in the room

Chris Jordan's picture Posted by Chris Jordan Tax Justice Campaign Manager

The UK is responsible for one in 5 of the world’s tax havens. That puts our government in the perfect position to stop tax havens enabling companies to dodge their taxes in poor countries.

The UK has been roundly criticised by other governments, with the Austrian Finance Minister saying "Great Britain has many money laundering centres and tax havens in its immediate legal remit - the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, Virgin Islands. These are all hot spots for tax evasion and money laundering."

Chancellor George Osborne responded by announcing a new deal to make some of the UK’s tax havens share tax information – but only with 5 European powers. This deal will do nothing to help the world’s poorest countries claim what’s rightfully due.

Tomorrow, George Osborne will host a meeting with G7 Finance Ministers from the world’s most powerful countries. But the impact of the UK’s very own tax havens on poor countries is unlikely to be discussed.

Elephant in the roomTo remind him that for the developing world, UK tax havens remain the elephant in the room, the IF campaign decided to catch his attention with a life sized elephant right outside the Treasury offices.

George Osborne sat reading the newspaper outside the Treasury - ignoring the giant elephant in his room that is the UK's tax havens.

Meanwhile campaigners dressed as elephants stood outside handing out flyers reminding Osborne that we can tackle global hunger IF we crack down on tax havens. It certainly caught the attention of everyone who passed by!

Tax justice and the G8: a global deal for a global problem

Rachel Noble's picture Posted by Rachel NobleResearch Officer

There are less than six weeks to go until the leaders of the world’s eight wealthiest economies gather in the UK. Prime Minister David Cameron, who chairs this year’s G8 meeting, has promised to put tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance and the role of offshore tax havens at the top of the agenda. Tax is also a hot topic in the G20 which meets this autumn - and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - which is “spearheading” various initiatives to establish fairer international tax rules to restore integrity in the broken global system.

All three of these global policy-making bodies are of course dominated by wealthy countries. But poorer countries are faring substantially worse from the impacts of tax avoidance and evasion by elites and multinational corporations.  It is estimated that developing countries lose more money to tax havens every year than they receive in aid. This lost revenue is urgently needed to pay for essential public services - such as schools and hospitals - and to enable citizens to finance their own futures free from poverty.

While Starbucks and Jimmy Carr dominate the headlines on tax evasion, calls for tax justice are growing in the global South.

A recent example comes from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission has just issued a resolution explicitly recognising that illicit capital flight – which mostly consists of funds illicitly concealed to evade taxes - undermines the capacity of its member governments to protect and fulfil the human rights of their citizens, and to attain the Millennium Development Goals.

Their message for the wealthy countries whose tax havens drain revenue and resources from the world’s poorest countries couldn’t be clearer: Africa is “embroiled in a vicious circle of poverty, malnutrition, diseases and death because its revenue potential is being drained by multinational companies and individuals through exploitation of the loopholes and weaknesses of laws and of the monitoring system”. 

The Commission points out that many African governments repeatedly invoke a lack of financial resources as a reason for failing to implement the human rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It is widely recognised – including by Commission - that tax has the potential to provide the most reliable, sustainable and significant revenue base to pay for goods and services and fulfil basic social, cultural and economic rights.

While tax avoidance – as opposed to tax evasion - is not technically ‘illicit’, the distinction is often fuzzy, while both are characterised by the same use of regulatory loopholes and tax havens that enable companies and elites to shift profits and assets out of developing countries, to the detriment of those countries’ tax bases. Tax justice, in short, isn’t just about celebrity tax schemes and internet retailers. It’s about rights and freedoms across the global South.

The key action emanating from the resolution is an in-depth study to be undertaken into the impacts of illicit capital flight on human rights in Africa. Such a strengthened evidence-base, informed by the analysis, perspectives and interests of African countries - as opposed to the usual global power blocs - is greatly needed. 

African calls like this highlight the vital importance of including developing countries in the discussions and renegotiations of the global tax rules being undertaken by the G8, G20 and OECD.

We need your help to be take that message to the G8 in June.

Please come to the mass IF Campaign rally in Hyde Park on 8 June - and be part of the action. Watch this space for more ways to get involved as our tax justice campaign ramps up around the world in the coming months.

>> Come to the IF Campaign rally

Hear top politicians publicly debate stopping tax dodging in poor countries

Ema Jackson's picture Posted by Ema JacksonCampaigns Assistant

This Tuesday, as part of the Enough Food for Everyone...IF campaign, we are co-hosting a major public debate with St Martins-in-the-Field about tax avoidance and its effect on developing countries entitled ‘Tax: Law and Morality – Which way now?’ and we want you to come along.

I will be there and I am really interested to hear what will be said as tax avoidance is currently such a hot topic that is rarely far from the front pages. And it is not only in the UK that tax avoidance is rife, of course, but also in some of the poorest countries in the world. In fact, developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in international aid! Crazy, isn’t it?

Representatives from all three of the major UK political parties will be there to debate their approaches to tax avoidance. There will be Treasury Minister David Gauke MP for the Conservatives, Catherine McKinnell MP for Labour and Stephen Williams MP for the Liberal Democrats. This is the first time the three main parties have debated the issue since the controversies surrounding companies like Starbucks and Amazon came to light.

So come along to what promises to be a very lively debate. Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start on Tuesday 7th May at St Matins-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square. There is no need to sign up, you just need to turn up on the night. See you there!

Tax Justice march in Zambia