This post merits a cup of tea (if you are planning to read all the links) but it’s a story worth sticking with.

This blog deals with the urgent work of protecting the best wildlife sites from damage  - we’ve ranged widely and have followed cases both in the UK and further afield.  The plight of Kenya’s Dakatcha woodlands has featured as an Important Bird Area at risk of imminent damage – the threat of the clearance of up to 50,000 ha of woodland in order to grow jatropha (pictured) – a ‘non-food’ crop from which oil can be extracted – you can catch up on the latest stage of this story here.

The story behind the threat is both fascinating and directly relevant to the way in which the European Union is seeking to meet its laudable goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions by pushing for greater use of biofuels.

You can read, here, about how the company behind the Dakatcha development, Nuove Iniziative Industriali Srl and their Kenyan subsidiary are a major player in the dash for biofuels (and you can feel the contempt for the campaign to save the Dakatcha woodlands barely concealed in the reaction of the company’s owner, Luciano Orlandi).

No one really doubts that the impetus to utilise biofuels didn’t start from the best of intentions – the threat of the impact of climate change is real and urgent.  But that doesn’t excuse setting up a mechanism that is going to have predictable (and thus avoidable) negative consequences – the threat to the Dakatcha woodlands is but one.  Growing biofuels takes up land – some estimates suggest an area the size of Denmark.  That land will either involve further pressure on natural environments or will elbow less-profitable food production out of the way, thus creating an inevitable indirect pressure on land-use and with it the potential to generate further greenhouse gases as a result of this indirect land use change. If you want to dig deeper, here’s an excellent article which is also a splendid example of investigative journalism.

In Europe, the policies around the push for the use of biofuels comes from the Renewable Energy and Fuel Quality Directives.   We are on a promise that the so-called ‘sustainability criteria’ within these important legal instruments will deliver environmental protection – but we know they’re not enough without measures to prevent indirect land use change And the European Commission is actively avoiding doing anything about it, despite their clear legal obligation to do so.

The environment legal firm Client Earth, have looked closely at this issue and have recently issued a legal briefing.  Tim Grabiel, a Senior Lawyer at the firm, sums up the situation ‘Legal mandates do not get much clearer than this: gather the best available scientific evidence and fix this known accounting error undermining renewable policies and promoting destructive biofuels. That is what the European Commission has been charged with. This is no time to being playing politics of delay when our climate policies and millions in public subsidies rest in the balance’.

So currently we have a powerful drive for biofuels which could, through pushing land use change, actually increase the emission of greenhouse gases while, at the same time, causing the destruction of precious natural habitat. Mad?  Well, we think so.

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