DTE writes to UK government on agrofuels policy

Mr. Greg Barker MP

July 6, 2011

Dear Mr. Barker,

Re: UK government action to address environmental and human rights impacts of agrofuels

I am writing on behalf of Down to Earth Indonesia, an NGO working with partners internationally to promote climate justice and sustainable livelihoods in Indonesia.

I was interested to hear your address, on 9th February 2011, to the Rights and Resource Initiative (RRI) 9th Dialogue on Forest Governance and Climate Change and found your presentation of the UK Government’s initiatives on REDD+ encouraging and constructive; in particular, your recognition of the need for the UK Government to “identify and address the drivers of deforestation and degradation”.

As I am sure you are aware, the development of oil palm plantations is one of the biggest causes of rainforest clearance in Indonesia. EU member states’ National Renewable Energy Action plans show that demand for agrofuels (and the resultant Indirect Land Use Change) to fulfil the Renewable Energy Directive’s renewable transport and energy mandates, will result in increased greenhouse gas emissions[1],100 million more hungry people[2] due to increased food prices[3] and landlessness for people in developing countries. In Indonesia, the development of oil palm plantations is associated with human rights abuses, as well as forest and peatland destruction. This has benefited large companies at the expense of local communities who lose their land and access to important forest resources and ecosystem services. With this in mind, the commitments made during your speech to the RRI in February 2011 appear to be undermined by parallel policies currently emerging from the EU.

Several reports and growing scientific evidence[4] on the social and environmental impacts of agrofuel production point to the need for immediate policy action by the European Commission to mitigate negative social and environmental impacts.  A report into the ethics of biofuels, recently published by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics  (Biofuels: Ethical Issues)[5]  states that agrofuels production breaches basic human rights when it “endangers local food security or displaces local populations from the land they depend on for their daily subsistence“.[6] It also recommends that “a compulsory certification scheme should be set up to ensure that all biofuels produced in or imported into the EU meet human rights standards".[7] The Environmental Audit Committee’s 2008 Report recommended the implementation of  “a moratorium on current targets [for EU agrofuels policy]until robust mechanisms to prevent damaging land use change are developed”.[8]

In your capacity as the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, DTE urges you, as a matter of priority, to push both the UKgovernment and the European Commission directly, to ensure that the Commission conducts a full review into the environmental and social impacts arising from the Renewable Energy Directive’s 10% target before 2014, with a view to radically revising the target.This should include consideration of human rights and the development of an ethical framework for agrofuels production.

Through our work with local communities, DTE has direct evidence of human rights and environmental abuses resulting from palm oil production in Indonesia. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with you and to learn how the UK government will take the ethical responsibility to ensure that policy on agrofuels will address the drivers of forests destruction and the need to protect human rights and livelihoods in Indonesia.

Yours Sincerely,

Clare McVeigh, Down to Earth


 [1] Ecofys. September 2010.  Indirect effects of biofuel production: Unraveling the numbers. Available at:http://www.theicct.org/workshops/iluc_sep10/ICCT_ILUC_workshop_Ecofys_Sep2010.pdf

[2] ActionAid. Feb 2010.  Meal Per Gallon: the impact of industrial biofuels on people and global hunger. http://www.actionaid.org.uk/doc_lib/meals_per_gallon_final.pdf

[3] International Monetary Fund. Rising Prices on the Menu. FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT, March 2011, Vol. 48, No. 1. Thomas Helbling and Shaun Roache. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2011/03/helbling.htm

[4] A number of reports are outlined on the DTE website. See: http://www.downtoearth-indonesia.org/story/dte-agrofuels-policy-update-january-2011

[5] Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Biofuels:Ethical Issues. April 2011. http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/sites/default/files/Biofuels_ethical_issues_FULL%20REPORT_0.pdf

[6] Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Biofuels:Ethical Issues. Chapter 4: Ethical Framework,  Section 4.12:  http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/sites/default/files/files/Biofuels_ethical_issues_%20chapter4.pdf

[7] Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Biofuels:Ethical Issues.Chapter 5: Ethical Principles. http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/principle-1-human-rights

[8] Environmental Audit Committee’s Committee; Are biofuelssustainable? (First Report of Session 2007–08,, Volume I). http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmenvaud/76/76.pdf