Monday

30th Mar 2020

EU environment chief concerned by deforestation in Brazil

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas hinted on Thursday (28 February) that biofuel development is contributing to deforestation in Brazil, even as the commission's own recently proposed climate package aims to see a massive increase in the use of the controversial fuels.

"The latest data on deforestation in Brazil is not good. It's really, really worrisome," said the commissioner in response to a question on European biofuel policy from the economy attaché of the Brazilian Mission to the European Communities, Marco Cabral.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Mr Dimas spoke about "worrisome" data on deforestation in Brazil (Photo: Wikipedia)

The exchange took place at a morning policy briefing organised by the European Policy Centre think-tank outlining the commission's new climate and energy package – one of its goals is that it should have a ten percent use of biofuels in transport across Europe by 2020.

"Although President Lula has recently announced some special plans to halt deforestation, the latest figures are really very bad," said the commissioner.

Responding, Mr Cabral said that: "Brazil is afraid that the debate around biofuels is being dominated by emotion, misinformation and generalisations."

He said that only a fifth of Brazil's arable land is currently under cultivation and of this less than four percent is used for ethanol, while fuelling 48 percent of the country's passenger vehicles.

His comments reflect concern in Brazil about the growing pressure in Europe for reducing or even eliminating these biofuels targets, which some say contribute to environmental problems and food shortages as land is cleared to grow biofuels.

The commissioner did however praise the country for the energy efficiency of the biofuel source favoured by Brazil's policies.

While Brazil's ethanol industry favours sugar cane as its source plant, the United States ethanol fuel is based largely on maize. Some 69 percent of the world's supply of ethanol comes from Brazil and the US.

"Sugar cane is much more efficient than corn," said the commissioner "so really, it's one of best types of first-generation biofuel, if not the best."

Concern in the commission's environment unit

The commissioner's spokesperson, Barbara Helfferich, commenting on the commissioner's strong words on deforestation but praise for sugar cane as a biofuels source, said that the commissioner is trying to offer a nuanced approach to the issue, but raises concerns every time he meets Brazilian officials.

"There is of course the sustainability criteria [for the use of biofuels in transport] in the commission's proposals," she said, "but we have to ensure that we are not held hostage by our own targets if they result in our using those biofuels that contribute to climate change."

Some commission officials told the EUobserver that they are worried that the worsening deforestation in Brazil is indeed linked to the country's biofuels strategy.

"Look, it's an understandable business for Brazil to be in, given the demand, but it should not be aggravating the dire threat of deforestation," said one official.

By contrast, the energy department in the commission rejected any link between the EU biofuels policy and deforestation in Brazil, with a spokesman saying "we don't see any evidence of the link."

"There's no way – the proposals were only announced, what, a month ago?"

He pointed both to the EU's own sustainability criteria for accepting biofuels as well as the positive consequences it is having in Brazil.

"It would be a shame if we were to hamper these positive effects."

No breakthrough at EU budget summit

EU leaders failed to reach agreement on the EU's long-term budget, as richer states and poorer 'cohesion countries' locked horns. The impasse continues over how to fund the Brexit gap.

EU leaders struggling to break budget deadlock

Cuts to innovation, space, neighbourhood and other programme-spending push down the latest budget proposal on the table of EU leaders. Rebates could stay on, to win the support of the net-payers for a deal.

Unhappy EU leaders begin budget haggle

EU leaders arriving at the Brussels summit criticised the budget proposal of EU Council president Charles Michel, as richer member states insisted holding onto their rebates, while poorer countries wanted to avoid deep cuts to their subsidies.

Vietnam sent champagne to MEPs ahead of trade vote

A trade deal with Vietnam sailed through the European Parliament's international trade committee and after its embassy sent MEPs bottles of Moet & Chandon Imperial champagne over Christmas.

Feature

Promises and doubts: Africa's free-trade adventure

The EU is hoping that a continent-wide free trade agreement in Africa will help lift millions out of poverty and help solve issues of security and migration. But its message of values and equal partnership do not resonate with everyone.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. EU struggles to remain united This WEEK
  2. How Europe coped with pandemic 100 years ago
  3. Coronavirus crisis deepens, but solidarity booms
  4. Romania: Inside the EU's worst healthcare system, as virus hits
  5. Pandemic is time to recognise gig economy workers' rights
  6. EU doctors: bring refugees on Greek islands to safety
  7. Russia's top coronavirus 'fake news' stories
  8. WHO warning on lockdown mental health

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us