False solutions to climate change

False solutions to climate change

Not sustainable Biofuels are not fulfilling their objective in the climate negotiations to reduce emissions, and are not a solution to address the climate crisis, avers CENSAT Agua Viva

 Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases has been widely publicised as the formula for alleviating the global climate crisis. However, after 20 years of negotiations in the United Nations framework, the emission of pollutants continues to increase, the extraction of fossil fuels grows at a frenetic pace, mainly in the Global South, while energy consumption in the Global North is not questioned. What has been achieved with the climate negotiations is the promotion of false solutions.

Among the false solutions to ‘confront’ the environmental crisis is biofuels, which are promoted globally under the arguments that they are a ‘sustainable’ way to face the crisis and fuel shortages, permit the reduction of greenhouse gases and also an opportunity for development for rural communities around the world, mainly for tropical countries and the Global South. Further, as in the case of Colombia, the promotion of biofuels is complemented by the promotion of public policy instruments, regulations favourable to agribusiness subsidies and tax incentives, and a mandated blending of biofuels with hydrocarbons.

Being at fault

The promotion of agrofuels in Colombia has been made through the expansion of monoculture palm and sugarcane, which in some regions have doubled in size in just a decade, making Colombia the second largest producer of biofuels in Latin America. In 2014, they exploded in Colombia with 2,30,000 hectares for sugarcane, of which 45,000 were allocated for ethanol with a daily production of 1,145 million litres. In addition, oil palm is planted in over 4,70,000 hectares with 2,90,000 in production, which is extracted, among other products, 1.5 million litre daily of agrodiesel.

In 2012, the ministries of Mines and Energy and Agriculture declared that the goal for the next 10 years would be to cultivate energy crops on an area of 3 million hectares. One million of these are devoted to the cultivation of raw materials for ethanol and 2 million to produce farming inputs for agrodiesel. This agro-industrial model is expected to increase in the following years.

Although Colombian law establishes limits on the purchase of land, supposedly to prevent concentration and to preserve their social function, the growth of agribusiness has been supported largely by land grabbing. Large companies have obtained about 1 million hectares in the region of the Altillanura (eastern plains) using illegal activities, bringing together buyers and sellers, encouraging large land titles and robbing/buying land from campesinos.

In addition to land grabbing, these energy crops are causing serious ecological conflicts regarding the control of land and water. While the area has grown rapidly to accommodate energy crops, local agricultural practices have decreased. As a result, growing reliance on food from other areas increases the price of basic food. In addition, there is a dispute over water control in the palm areas due to drought and this which impacts local communities.
If the projections of the International Energy Agency, which estimates that the share of biofuels in the total energy market will be 4% in 2030, are correct, we will also witness the occupation of land intended for food production and a high amount of deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Critical environmental analysis has demonstrated that the momentum and promotion of biomass production for fuel transport systems is a strategy designed to encourage southern agribusiness, where transnational corporations of seeds, inputs and pesticides play an important role. Obviously, this strategy is executed through transgressing agricultural and environmental boundaries, occupying territories and robbing communities and cultures, land grabbing and establishing monocultures using pesticides and polluting waters, disrupting ecological cycles and habitat of native species, changing land use and transforming landscapes. That is, multiplying the flows of matter and energy, with all manner of negative social and environmental consequences.

Therefore, in addition to generating serious territorial impacts, agrofuels emit greenhouse gases with deforestation and changes in land use. They are not fulfilling their objective in the climate negotiations to reduce emissions, and are not a solution to address the climate crisis.

False solutions are a way to turn away from real alternatives to the global environmental crisis. The true path passes through transforming a society of petro-addicts, curbs the rise in world consumption of cars, questions the energy-intensive Global North and its historical responsibilities for global emissions. In order to propose real solutions, this requires questioning the capitalist development model and thereby talking about the impacts of extractivism on the global South.

Unfortunately, these reflections do not have a space in the climate change conference of the United Nations. The real solutions are found in other places and continue to be spoken through other voices: in communities, social movements, environmentalists and students, that propose a local agriculture system, food and energy sovereignty, community and water management, forests to confront the environmental crisis so that this can become another world that is more just and happier. These proposals will emerge and continue to complement the common good of humanity, regardless of the climate negotiations that continue flaunting false solutions.

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