6th of March 2007
A national workshop on biofuels last week was followed by a meeting of the civil society Energy Caucus that endorsed the workshop decision to call for a new process to develop a “real strategy” to regulate the burgeoning biofuels industry in South Africa, so as to ensure public benefits. The meeting rejected both the “Draft Strategy”, drawn up in consultation with key industry players, and the “consultative process” subsequently being run by the DME to provide for public comment. The latter includes a workshop tomorrow, 7 March, 09h00 – 12h00 at the Midrand Protea Hotel, where officials will be taken to task.
The Energy Caucus is a common platform for advocacy that includes organised labour (incl. Cosatu), faith groups and community-based organisations. The founding principles adopted in 2003 call for “a just transition to sustainable energy” with “Access to basic energy services [is] recognised as a human right.” A principle that is particularly pertinent to biofuels is the call for: “Full cost accounting in the energy sector, including full life-cycle analysis with comprehensive assessment of the energy balance”.
Recent studies of the biofuels industry in the USA indicate that delivering maize-based biofuel to market uses more energy than contained in the fuel itself. US subsidies for biofuel production are widely recognised as buying votes for Republicans in the vast commercial agriculture areas. The net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions claimed by project proponents are based on the generalised assumption that biomass production is ‘carbon neutral’, a claim substantiated in few specific cases and that does not hold for industrialised agriculture, which in addition has more immediate local negative impacts.
“We recognise the potential for huge public benefits through strategic development of biofuels, both for decentralised production to meet local energy service needs and to expand commercial activity and employment,” says SECCP Coordinator Richard Worthington. “Sustainable use of biomass, including conversion to liquid fuels, should indeed deliver at least 55 000 jobs, as promised by government, but we do not believe that the document currently being promoted by the DME does anything to improve the prospects for job creation in the energy or agricultural sectors.”
“If the proposals are adopted as they stand, government will be providing financial incentives for unsustainable land use and the appropriation of land from local communities by transnational corporations, with no assurance of any benefit such as reduced fossil fuel use. This would be a sell-out strategy. The industry is already growing ahead of regulatory oversight. Any incentives must be targeted to benefit the so-called ‘Second Economy’ and be subject to qualification criteria that look beyond the market price of crude oil.”
“To put people before profits, or even to put job creation on a par with returns on investment, we need a process that includes people’s representatives in drafting the strategy, in the awarding or application of incentives and in communicating the potential of all modern biomass options to those currently in energy poverty.” Worthington concludes: “A government intervention that simply reduces risks to big business, without leveraging or ensuring any public benefits, is worse than no intervention at all.”
For background information contact Tristen Taylor at the SECCP office.
See also www.cures-network.org for an NGO position paper
For further comment contact Richard Worthington on 082 446 6392 (not during the DME workshop)