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The European Parliament must vote for Food not Fuel

Lucy Hurn's picture Posted by Lucy HurnBiofuels Campaign Manager

This September MEPs will be voting in the European Parliament on whether to limit the amount of food burnt as biofuels in the cars of Europe. Join us in the latest phase of the biofuels campaign, email your MEP today and ask them to vote for Food not Fuel!

Food not Fuel campaigners outside the European Parliament
Food not Fuel campaigners outside the European Parliament
Photo: ActionAid

Winning the vote in the European Parliament will be a big challenge, industry is going all guns blazing to lobby MEPs to protect their interests by keeping the status quo. But I’m confident we can win - we’re working with a great coalition of organisations across Europe to build the campaign, and we’ve already come so far in the campaign.

Starting with a community problem
We first started working on biofuels in 2009 because colleagues in the south told us of growing problems of communities they worked with losing their land (and with it their livelihoods) to make way for massive plantations growing crops for biofuels.

Halima Weli from Kisarawe, Tanzania, lost her land to a biofuels company. Halima Weli from Kisarawe, Tanzania, lost her land to a biofuels company.

It's not coincidnce that the same year the Renewable Energy Directive was introduced in Europe, including a target to ensure 10% of transport is powered by renewable sources. The intentions behind the target were good, but it led to a biofuel industry springing up to serve it without clarity on how the true carbon emissions from biofuels would be calculated.

The campaign has come a long way
In 2011, we were successful in getting the Transport Minister, Norman Baker, to freeze UK targets, agreeing that “there remain a number of uncertainties regarding the sustainability of biofuels and their best use”.

In October last year, the European Commission (EC) released the long awaited proposal on how to deal with the carbon emissions from biofuels, and also proposed a cap on biofuels made from food – a huge step in recognising the impact of biofuels on food security. The proposal now needs to be agreed by both European member states and MEPs.

The Field of Wheat takes to the road
Last year we took our ‘field of wheat petition’ to meetings between supporters and key UK ministers who could influence the UK’s position in European talks. Including Norman Baker who leads on biofuels at the Department for Transport, Ed Davey, Energy and Climate Change Secretary and Lynne Featherstone, Development Minister.

Local campaigners meet Norman Baker MP and Ed Davey MP

Then one morning in April MPs on their way to work were greeted by a giant field of wheat outside Parliament!

Field of Wheat springs up outside the Houses of ParliamentField of Wheat springs up outside the Houses of Parliament

Key MPs came out show their support for Food not Fuel and not long after, the Prime Minister said "I agree that we should not allow the production of biofuels to undermine food security. We want to go further than the European Commission's proposed cap of 5% on crop-based biofuels". This message was repeated by Justine Greening, Development Secretary on the day of the Big IF rally in Hyde Park. 

So where are we now?
The field of wheat also made its way over to Brussels where supporters met MEPs who are also scrutinising the EC proposal. In July the lead committee of MEPs supported a cap on biofuels made from food or other crops grown on land that could grow food. 

Whilst we would rather see no food for fuel in Europe, we believe a cap of 5% is the best we can get passed right now and if this is passed, will show investors the days are numbered for food based biofuels in Europe.

So we need as many people as possible to email their MEPs before they vote on 11th September. It only takes a few minutes, and with European Parliament elections on the horizon next year, MEPs will be paying particular attention to what their voters have to say. If you’ve already taken action, please do share with your friends.

As Amalia from Guatemala, who lost her land to a plantation to grow sugar that could fuel cars in Europe, says she needs food, not crops to produce fuel "We do not want any more sugarcane. I cannot eat sugarcane. Let’s see how this sugarcane can get rid of hunger!”.

Join with her and demand Food not Fuel today. 

Join us in Brussels to call for Food not Fuel

Natasha Adams's picture Posted by Natasha AdamsActivism Officer

We’re inviting campaigners to apply to join us for a trip to Brussels, to push the European Parliament to vote for Food Not Fuel in September.

ActionAid campaign volunteers in Brussels earlier this year
ActionAid campaign volunteers in Brussels earlier this year
Photo: ActionAid

One in eight people go hungry each day. Yet we’re taking food and burning it in our cars as biofuels. Every year Europe burns enough food as biofuels to feed over 100m people. We have a great opportunity to influence MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) before an important vote which could cap the amount of European biofuels made from food.

You should apply to join us if:

  • You’re free from Monday 2nd – Wednesday 4th September
  • You’re up for lobbying your MEP (full training will be provided)
  • You think food being burnt as fuel is crazy and unjust
  • You’d like to meet other ActionAid campaigners from across Europe

As the new Activism Officer, this will be my first trip with ActionAid! I’m really looking forward to meeting lots of our amazing campaigners. This is what campaigner Rachel Cox (first on the left in the above picture) said about coming to Brussels with us earlier this year:

“The trip itself was extremely empowering; being able to have my own voice heard... by people who have the power to change legislation made me realise how much of a difference we can really make if we speak up about what we believe in.”

We will cover the expenses of campaigners on the trip.

If you are interested please download the application form, complete it and return the form to me at by Monday 12th August:

MEPs vote to limit food for fuel in Europe

Lucy Hurn's picture Posted by Lucy HurnBiofuels Campaign Manager

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.

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

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."

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.  

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

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

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

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 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.