Biofuels: Bad Policy Turns Win-Win Into a Losing Situation

Andrew Burger

Bad policy has thwarted the positive socio-economic and environmental effects biofuels production could have, according to a recently released report from Christian Aid. A drastic rethink, retooling and new vision is needed, they say.

Bad policy has turned what could be a win-win situation--the development of renewable, CO2-neutral biofuels--into a losing proposition environmentally, socially and economically, according to an August research report put out by Christian Aid.


From corn to rapeseed and palm oil, subsidizing industrial-scale farmers to produce already heavily subsidized crops to meet biofuel production targets has done little to improve, and in many cases worsened, climate and environmental conditions, dependence on fossil fuel imports, land use, and income and wealth inequities, according to the UK-based international aid organization.

"Vast sums of European and American taxpayers’ money are being used to prop up industries which are fuelling hunger, severe human rights abuses and environmental destruction – and failing to deliver the benefits claimed for them," said Eliot Whittington, Christian Aid climate policy advocacy specialist and the author of "Growing Pains: The Possibilities and Problems of Biofuels."

Getting It Right

Christian Aid isn't against biofuels, rather they oppose the policies that governments have enacted to stimulate their production.

"The problem is not with the crop or the fuel--it is with the policy framework around biofuel production and use," Whittington states in the report. "So far, it is evident that most of these policies have been mistaken--leading to biofuels that increase carbon emissions, drive up food prices, encourage the displacement of farmers, provoke conflict and labor abuses and damage the environment."

It doesn't, and shouldn't, be that way, he continues.

"Small-scale, low-input production, to provide for local energy needs, both minimizes associated environmental problems and appears to offer significant benefits in terms of poverty reduction."

In order to remedy the situation, Christian Aid urges that biofuel production:

  • can be only a very limited part of the global economy and efforts to tackle climate change ;
  • can deliver carbon savings--but such savings are not guaranteed and need to be clearly identified, taking into account all land-use impacts;
  • should be subsidized only on a basis of self-sufficiency, support to small farmers and a shift to decentralized, clean energy for the poor.

Energy & Economics