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MEPs vote to limit food for fuel in Europe

Lucy Hurn's picture Posted by Lucy HurnBiofuels Campaign Manager
ActionAid UK supporters, Mary Cannon,  Sophie Wills-Virk , Alec Spencer, Rachel Cox and John Smith (l-r), take the call for Food not Fuel to Brussels
ActionAid UK supporters, Mary Cannon, Sophie Wills-Virk , Alec Spencer, Rachel Cox and John Smith (l-r), take the call for Food not Fuel to Brussels this April.
Photo: ActionAid

It’s been a time of high drama in the European biofuels world in the last few weeks. A group of key MEPs – the Environment Committee – charged with making recommendations about how to reform European biofuels policy, have gone from being so deadlocked in negotiations we thought a vote might not actually happen, to voting passing a vote that, whilst not going as far as we would like, is certainly great progress.

UK biofuels targets, as well as those across Europe, are driven by European renewable energy targets. Whilst originally introduced as a solution to climate change, it’s now clear most biofuels used in Europe cause just as much climate emissions as the fossil fuels they were designed to replace, and worse still, are fuelling hunger  - literally burning food whilst 1 in 8 go hungry. In Europe we burn enough food in our cars to feed over 100 million people every year!

In October last year a new proposal to reform European biofuels policy was announced, giving us a golden opportunity to end the use of Food for Fuel across Europe. The proposal includes measures to cap the proportion of food-based crops being used to meet biofuels targets at 5% (of an overall target of 10% by 2020*). It also proposes using a more comprehensive way to measure the full climate emissions from biofuels. Whilst the proposal doesn’t go as far as it should, this showed great progress and that European decision makers had woken up to the dangers of biofuels in causing hunger.

But since then, industry has been fighting really hard to weaken the proposal and remove any sort of cap on food based biofuels or stricter way of calculating emissions that cause climate change.

The proposal has already been discussed in Council (where energy or environment ministers represent their countries, and where our Energy and Climate Change minister, Ed Davey, has sadly failed to take a lead in supporting the call for Food not Fuel) and is now being scrutinised in the European Parliament. Various committees of MEPs have been feeding back on the proposal, and whilst some have made good suggestions on how to strengthen it, it seemed that the pro biofuels industry lobbyists were winning.

Until early this week, even those we thought would be in favour of tightening up the proposal, seemed ready to throw in the towel and accept a bad outcome. But following negotiations that went right down to the wire, the vote resulted in a proposal to the amount of food burnt in our cars as biofuels at 5.5%. While this is higher than we would like, it’s far better than what was on the table at the beginning of the week. And better still, they’re proposing also including ‘energy crops’ in this cap. This would mean putting the brakes on crops such as jatropha, which can also force poor communities off their land, as in the case of a community we work with in Kisarawe, Tanzania.

This is far from the end. The next step is for all MEPs to vote on the proposal this Autumn. Whilst it is far from certain they will follow, and even build on, the lead set by the ENVI committee today, today is a really important step forwards in stopping the use of Food for Fuel in Europe. But it's really important we keep the pressure up – MEPs are facing elections next year so they should be really responsive to what we, their voters say. Watch this space to see how you can get involved.

* The European Union's Renewable Energy Directive requires EU member states to use 10% of the road transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020, which in practice has become a de facto biofuels target.

Biofuels - Time for a long-term perspective?

Diverting agricultural land to produce food is pushing up food prices and putting poor communities at risk of land grabs. Don’t take my word for it. The UN, OECD and UK Parliament’s International Development Select Committee say so too.

Meanwhile, European politicians have today recommended that 6.5% of our transport fuel comes from food - much higher than current levels - after being heavily lobbied by the biofuels industry not to put a lower cap on biofuels consumption. The politicians also failed to take action on the climate effects of so-called Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC), which means that producing biofuels might actually be worse for the climate than the fossil fuels they were meant to replace.

The biofuels industry has kept busy in the last few weeks, scaremongering about the potential impacts on their profits of regulating the environmental and food price effects of biofuels consumption.

Politicians from Brussels to London (via Berlin and Athens and every other European capital) have been told that if we actually account for all the greenhouse gas emitted from biofuels and stop using the ones that are worse for the climate than fossil fuels, we might lose thousands of jobs.

They have also said that if we cap the amount of food we use as fuel at 5% of total transport fuel consumption (as suggested by the European Commission), politicians will stick a knife in the heart of an industry creating jobs in a time of recession and mass unemployment.

The fact that this industry has so far been unprofitable (notwithstanding subsidies) and receives billions of euros in financial incentives each year across Europe is quietly forgotten, as is the fact that only about 3,500-4,000 people are directly employed in the production of biofuels in the EU.

Politicians have become so scared by the industry’s scare-mongering that dirty deals now seem to be struck behind the scenes between political forces in Europe to protect the biofuels industry with little or no long-term concern for what the impact on climate change and food prices are of those deals.

The latest deals between a broad political spectrum in the European Parliament’s industry and energy, transport and international trade committees is a 6.5% cap on food-based fuel.

They are also rejecting best available science on ILUC factors, meaning that lots of greenhouse gases will go unaccounted for and we will risk using biofuels that are worse for the climate than fossil fuels.

It must be hard being a politician. You get lobbied from left, right and centre (literally!) and striking a balance must be hard. But when it comes to biofuels, it seems most politicians are currently happy to trade off climate change and food security for some short-term over-subsidised jobs.

We all know we need to move away from fossil fuel both for the climate’s sake and to improve our energy security in the future. Unfortunately, using food-based biofuels isn’t the solution to this problem.

Isn’t it time for our elected political representatives – both in Brussels and in capitals around Europe – to take a long-term perspective and put in place biofuels policies that ensure no negative food price impacts or additional greenhouse gas emissions?

"I have learnt so many things to build into my life as an activist in Tanzania."

Sara Johnson with Activistas Joy Mwakisambi and Elly Ahimidiwe
Sara, Joy and Elly on the Activista tour
Photo: ActionAid

After two months in the UK working on the Enough Food IF campaign, Tanzanian land rights activist Elly Ahimidiwe reflects on what he'll take back home for his fight for justice.  

Being away from home for almost two months isn't easy, as you miss people and events at home. But accepting these difficult times and the confusion of living in a different country brings with it the opportunity to learn new cultures and skills. 

Our movement to end world hunger

I was invited by ActionAid UK to participate in the Enough Food For Everyone...IF campaign organised by more than 200 organisations across the UK. I have been advocating for social justice for less privileged peoples - and for their rights, because without food, no human will be able to survive.

We believe that there is enough food for everyone despite the fact that one in eight people go hungry every day in the world. This is a scandal. Therefore IF world leaders act responsibly by making sure they fulfill the promises they make, IF multinational companies in less developed countries pay their fair share of taxes, and IF they end land grabs in Africa, we can begin to end world hunger.

What I learnt from the UK

As a young person coming from Africa, particularly Tanzania, to what many people call a ‘first world country’ of Europe, I had expected a lot of new exciting things different from my own community. And I found them! So many things are different to my country, from food, infrastructures, the well-organised transport system, and even different English accents to the one I am used to. But again this was my opportunity to learn.

I have learnt so many things about campaigning and activism to take back home and to build into my life as an activist there struggling for change, things which will contribute to the local people and the community.

Travelling around the UK, to Exeter, Manchester, Edinburgh, Leicester and Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit has given me a new perspective of Europe. Meeting fellow young people from colleges and universities during the campaign, I got to understand that many young people have a different interpretation of the African Continent to the reality, in the same way I had about Europe before I came here.

Through this we got to learn from each other about some important issues from governance to the hunger crisis. Most importantly I’ve learnt that reality is not only what you read from newspapers or watch on television at home or hear from the others, but it is about life’s experience, seeing and doing things for yourself.

Tax and the G8: we have proved that change can happen but we've a long way to go

Melanie Ward's picture Posted by Melanie WardHead of Advocacy
Enough food IF flotilla
The Enough Food IF flotilla passes Enniskillen castle as the G8 summit kicks off
Photo: Enough Food for Everyone...IF

Developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid. But will anything change as a result of this G8?

Developing countries won't be any better off immediately – this will take years, not months. But the process of change has begun. This time last year it was unthinkable that the links between tax dodging and global poverty would feature so prominently at a G8 summit. At points it was bizarre watching David Cameron, the UK prime minister, use language that could have been written by those working in development agencies. Ed Miliband, too, used the opportunity to launch a welcome call to arms in this area.

Tax has arrived as a major development issue. The action at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland didn't match the ambition of the UK government's talk but it was probably never going to. Tax avoidance is so built-in to the international system that there is a mountain to climb in terms of closing tax havens and ending it permanently.

The G8 has inched towards the foothills of that mountain; but the leaders have not yet managed to start their ascent. On Saturday, UK tax havens agreed to sign an existing tax convention that could deliver benefits to some developing countries – that was a pretty good start.

Sharing tax information

Aside from the success of establishing tax dodging as a global issue, there are mixed results on three main areas. First, on a new agreement on automatically sharing tax information that is vital for tracking down avoiders. The G8 insists their new tax information-sharing deal needs to be open to all countries including the poorest, and this is a welcome shift from cosy deals for rich countries alone. But they've made no concrete commitments yet to ensure that this will really happen or that tax havens will sign up. We still risk a two-tier tax system emerging, with developing countries left trailing.

Secret company ownership

Second, on ending secret company ownership, the outcome falls short and we have been told that black is white – more secrecy is really more openness. Some countries will gather more information on who really owns what, yet this may still be kept secret from those that need the data most, including developing countries. This strays very far from what former South African president Thabo Mbeki and his African Union panel are calling for to help reverse the illicit financial flows from the continent. It is vital that information is made publicly accessible.

Reporting on profits

We are heartened, however, that the G8 has taken steps towards requiring companies to report on the profits they make and the taxes they pay in each country where they operate. If this is taken forward in an enforceable, public way, developing countries will be able to realise real benefits.

When, together, we first raised tax dodging as a global poverty issue, we were told that we were naive, unrealistic, and uninformed.

Yet we have proved that change can happen. All of you who have walked with us can be proud of the start we have made. Whether you signed a petition, shared the campaign on Facebook, or even met with your MP. You made this change happen.

But we have a long way to go hold G8 leaders to their promises and make sure that the climb towards a tax justice accelerates in the months and years to come. And that is exactly what we'll do. Together.


Crunch time for the IF campaign as G8 leaders gather in Enniskillen

IF campaign cook pot stunt
The Enough Food for Everyone...IF Campaign at Belfast City Hall draw attention for the need for urgent G8 action to tackle hunger
Photo: Caroline Jones/ActionAid UK

The world’s media has poured into city of Belfast this weekend in anticipation of the arrival of the heads of state from eight of the world’s richest countries. The whole of the Belfast Hilton Hotel is apparently preserved for Obama’s secret service entourage, and rumours are afoot of Putin taking a dip in Lough Erne at the summit. 

Amidst all the furore, ActionAid and partners in the Enough Food for Everyone... IF coalition are here in Northern Ireland to crank up the pressure on David Cameron to ensure the world’s poorest are not forgotten in a deal to tackle tax dodging at the G8 summit over the next two days.

In just the 48 hours that this summit sits, an unfathomable £1.4 billion will be lost by developing countries, siphoned off into tax havens, vital funds that could and should be spent tackling hunger and poverty. We’ve seen a lot of tough talk about tax dodging in recent months; now is the time for action. We need justice for the 1 in 8 people going hungry every day.

IF campaign hand in in Northern IrelandPamela Chisanga from ActionAid Zambia helps present David Cameron with a petition, signed by 1.4 million peopleThis morning in Enniskillen our very own Pamela Chisanga from ActionAid Zambia was one of the delegation who presented David Cameron with the Enough Food IF petition, signed by 1.4 million people across the UK, bringing the message from the global south for urgent action on hunger. Pamela reminded the PM of Caroline Muchanga, a market stall holder in Zambia who pays more tax than the British company whose sugar she sells, pressing him to ensure a deal that works for all countries.

There have been some signs of progress. As thousands gathered at The Big IF Belfast this weekend to send a message to the G8 leaders, the government’s Tax, Trade and Transparency summit in London opened with news that the ten British-linked tax havens have taken the first steps towards transparency, signing a basic deal to share some information about hidden money.

This sounds great, but this is only the start. The real prize in the next two days is a strong global deal at the G8. We will be fighting to ensure the UK stops at nothing less. The ingredients for a global deal to tackle tax avoidance are clear: agreement to share information with poor countries, public registers so tax authorities can trace the real owners of assets and shed light on dodgy deals; and companies opening up their books.

We also need urgent action on land grabs, to protect the poorest communities having their land sold to foreign investors. The G8 must change the rules so that so that no company can take land from poor families without facing repercussions.

The 1 in 8 people going hungry and 3 million children dying from malnutrition every year can’t wait any longer. When the G8 sit down to dinner tonight, I hope the message of the 1.4 million from across the UK will be ringing in their ears.

New Tax Haven Pops Up in London

Chris Jordan's picture Posted by Chris Jordan Tax Justice Campaign Manager
A new tax haven pops up on the London South Bank

Tax havens are often called “sunny places for shady people”.

With just a few days to go before world leaders come together at the G8 summit to hammer out a deal, we though we should remind them just how ridiculous it is to turn a blind eye to these places.

As part of the IF campaign, we’ve created the Isle of Shady overlooking the City of London, complete with bags of loot direct from Africa, which is currently in the clutches of some fat cat business men.

We’ll be down on the South Bank, next door to the Oxo Tower all day, asking the public to join the campaign and telling David Cameron and the G8 to sort out shady tax havens next week.

For developing countries it’s no laughing matter. They lose an estimated three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year. That’s money that could be invested in supporting small scale farmers, improving roads and irrigation systems, which could end hunger once and for all. Instead, 1 in 8 continues to go hungry every night.

With pressure is mounting on the G8 to agree an ambitious deal that would bring an end to tax haven secrecy – but there’s a real chance that developing countries will be left out in the cold.

We're turning up the pressure to make sure that doesn't happen.

If you’re in London, please drop by, say hello and take action.  If not…then you can show your support by leaving a polite message on David Cameron's Facebook page asking for him to take action to end tax havens.