Government Experts and Activists Express Strong Concerns About Biofuels

SBSTTA is a subsidiary body of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and advises the CBD on scientific and technical issues.  Several government delegates present called for a precautionary approach to biofuels.  Use of the precautionary approach would require detailed research of the risks of large-scale biofuel production before any such production could occur.

A large number of organizations and Indigenous Peoples Organizations from around the world who attended this meeting also expressed their concerns and called for a profound scientific assessment of the risks of biofuels and a moratorium on all forms of financial support to biofuels pending the outcomes of this assessment, based on the precautionary principle.

Many biofuels activists call biofuels "agrofuels" both due to the use of the industrial agricultural model to produce biofuels, and because of the diversion of food crops away from people and into vehicles.

"The island where I live, Marajo island in the Amazon delta, is expected to drown in the coming 30 years due to global warming, but the Brazilian government is only pushing false solutions", said Edna Maria da Costa e Silva of the Cooperativa Ecologica das Mulheres Extractivistas do Marajo. "My government [Brazil] claims they support development, but they do not support my community in producing sustainable bio-oils for local consumption, they only support large-scale agrofuel production for urban consumers." she added.

At the Paris meeting, Brazil blocked the consensus of countries striving to develop a process to begin to address the negative impacts of biofuels, which are already being felt in numerous locations around the world.  At the same time, Brazil’s President Lula was touring Europe to promote biofuels as a green solution to climate change.

"There is a clear strategy of the Brazilian government to block any consideration of the social and environmental impacts of agrofuels, as this may interfere with their commercial interests", said Mateus Trevisan of MST, the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement.  Trevisan continued, "They are only promoting large monocultures and defending the interests of sugar cane companies and biotechnology corporations like  Syngenta, which has representatives on Brazil’s delegation here. This strategy is not going to benefit the Brazilian people."

A UN report released in May [2] warned that large-scale production of biofuels is already having devastating impacts on Indigenous Peoples, whose lands are being targeted for oil palm expansion and the expansion of other monocultures, triggered by the commodity boom caused by steeply rising demands for biofuels.

Marcial Arias, Credit:  Langelle/Global Justice Ecology Project

Marcial Arias, Credit: Langelle

"We came here seeking a solution for the problems that agrofuels are already costing our communities," said Marcial Arias from Kuna Yala (Panama), adding "now we are leaving frustrated seeing how the governments not only are not addressing our concerns they are promoting even more of these destructive agrofuels projects on our land."

Use of large scale tree monoculture plantations, including genetically modified trees, are planned for second generation biofuel production [3].  Earlier that week over 50 Indigenous Peoples Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations involved in the Paris meetings presented an open letter to the UN body recommending a ban on genetically engineered trees on the basis of their potential impacts on forest biological diversity and forest-dependent peoples.  They expressed their concern that the current biofuels boom and the rush for so-called second generation biofuels will lead to dangerous experiments with these trees [4].


For more information on the biofuels issue, to sign on to the call for a biofuels moratorium, or to endorse the letter to the UN for a ban on GE trees, please visit  Further information on the impacts of biofuels can be found at


[1] The Twelfth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technological and Technical Advice (SBSTTA) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity took place in Paris, France, July 2-6, 2007.

[2] The report of the Special rapporteur of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues "Oil palm and Other Commercial Tree Plantations, Monocropping and the Impacts on Indigenous peoples’ Land Tenure and Resource Management Systems and Livelihoods", and scroll down to 6session_crp6.doc

[3] All above information from a joint Release by Global Forest Coalition, EcoNexus, Global Justice Ecology Project, World Rainforest Movement, MST-Brazil’s Landless Worker Movement, Timberwatch Coalition, BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany, NABU/BirdLife Germany, Sobrevivencia /Friends of the Earth Paraguay, STOP GE Campaign North America

[4] For the full text and signatures to the Open Letter to UN to Ban Genetically Engineered Trees

Photo:  Marcial Arias from Kuna Yala (Panama) makes a point at a meeting in The Hague, The Netherlands on an agrofuels tour immediately before the SBSTTA meetings in Paris.  Credit:  Langelle/Global Justice Ecology Project

Graphic:  "Agrofuels, Road to Destruction" courtesy Global Forest Coalition