New study reveals biofuels carbon con | ActionAid UK

New study reveals biofuels carbon con

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Kazungu Ngumbao

African biofuels destined for Europe will result in up to six times the carbon emissions of fossil fuels, a new study has revealed.

The report, commissioned by the RSPB, ActionAid and Nature Kenya, focuses on the Dakatcha Woodlands in Kenya which are set to be destroyed to make way for jatropha plantations.

Campaigners say the results of the study make a mockery of claims that biofuels are a green, renewable alternative to fossil fuels. Biofuel currently makes up around 3.5 per cent of the petrol and diesel in UK fuel pumps. However, the UK Government wants to increase this to meet EU targets.

The Dakatcha Woodlands is one of the last remaining coastal forests in Kenya and is home to thousands of indigenous tribespeople who will be made homeless if the plans go ahead, as well as a range of threatened wildlife.

Dr Helen Byron, RSPB’s Kenya expert, said: “The Dakatcha Woodlands are a haven for wildlife and the threat they face is a direct result of European demand for biofuels. No government has done a proper assessment of biofuels imported from overseas to see if they will, in fact, reduce our carbon emissions – so we decided to do it for them.

We were shocked to discover that the biofuel produced from the proposed plantations at Dakatcha will result in up to six times more carbon emissions than fossil fuels.

Tim Rice, ActionAid’s biofuels expert, said: “Biofuels are far from the miracle climate cure they were thought to be. Like most other biofuels, jatropha could actually end up increasing carbon emissions.

Crucially the Dakatcha case also shows how biofuel plantations can create huge social upheaval with whole communities losing their land, homes and jobs.

Dr Byron continued: “The proposed plantation in Dakatcha is just one example of the disastrous but unseen impact of biofuels on the climate, nature and people – there are plenty more coming to light all the time.

The UK Government recognises the problems that subsidising biofuels is causing across the world and last week announced that it intends to limit such subsidies. But ministers must go further, they must challenge the European targets for biofuels and instead adopt an ambitious programme to reduce emissions from cars through improving efficiency and a massive roll-out of electric vehicles.

Taking into account the emissions produced throughout the production process, the study found that jatropha would emit between 2.5 and 6 times more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

Much of the biofuel produced in Dakatcha is destined for Europe because of new European Union targets. The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) requires 10 per cent of transport to be renewable by 2020 and most member states plan to meet this almost entirely through biofuels – which is likely to result in a doubling of biofuel use in Europe by 2020.

The Dakatcha Woodlands is home to over 20,000 people and is the ancestral land of the indigenous minority Watha and Giriama tribes. The plantation will not only evict the tribes from their land, but will destroy their livelihoods and sacred burial sites.

The area is also a global biodiversity hotspot and home to a number of globally threatened animal and bird species including the spectacular Fischer's turaco, southern banded snake eagle, Sokoke scops owl, and the Sokoke pipit. The Clarke’s weaver bird is found in only two places on earth and is threatened with extinction if the plantation goes ahead.

Notes to editors:

1.   The Dakatcha biofuels proposal
In 2009, Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd - owned by Italian company Nuove Iniziative Industriali Srl - proposed clearing 50,000 hectares in the Dakatcha area to develop the plantation. Following protests by the local community, the Kenyan government put the project on hold. But the company has resubmitted a proposal for pilot project of up to 10,000 hectares.

2.    Nature Kenya: Fighting for threatened wildlife
BirdLife International is a global Partnership of 114 NGOs that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. Nature Kenya is the BirdLife Partner in Kenya and works to enhance knowledge of Kenya’s biodiversity; promote conservation of key species, sites, and habitats; encourage community participation in conservation through promotion of sustainable benefits; and advocate policies favourable to biodiversity conservation. For more information on Nature Kenya’s fight to save Dakatcha visit Nature Kenya's website.

3.    Dakatcha Woodlands: An IBA (Important Bird Area)
Dakatcha Woodland is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and home to a number of globally threatened bird species including Clarke’s Weaver, which is found in only two places on earth – Dakatcha Woodland and the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest to the south. Since Clarke’s Weaver is presumed to nest in Dakatcha Woodland, the project therefore threatens this species with extinction. Important Bird Areas are recognised as a crucial biodiversity designation by the European Court of Justice and if this site were in the EU, it would certainly be protected under EU law.


photo : ©Piers Benatar/Panos Pictures/ActionAid