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Artic ice viewed from aboard the Norwegian Coast Guard vessel, "KV Svalbard", during Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit to the Polar ice rim to witness firsthand the impact of climate change on icebergs and glaciers.
© UNPhoto/Mark Garten

Agrofuels and climate change: a false solution

Author: Federica Napolitano (E.MA's graduate)

The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change expresses the urgent need to mitigate climate change in order “to protect climate system for present and future generations.” To this purpose it establishes the common objective to stabilize the GHGs concentration in the atmosphere. The Convention is based on a comprehensive approach which takes into account social and economic impacts of the responses to climate change in order to ensure that “collateral effects” do not nullify the measures taken.

  • Firstly, the Convention states that its general objective should be achieved “within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner” (Art.2). Agrofuels, on the contrary, have produced a shock in the food production and its prices.
  • Secondly, the Convention warns about the importance of taking into account the possible effects, even though they are not scientifically proved beyond any doubt. The scientific uncertainty is not a valid reason to postpone precautionary measures useful “…to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects…” (Art. 3.3). It follows that the argument, according which the effects of agrofuels production are not certain and vary according to specific circumstances, has not any value on the States’ obligation to take precautionary measures especially when “there are treats of serious or irreversible damages” (Art. 3.3).
  • Thirdly, States Parties have to “employ appropriate methods, for example impact assessments, formulated and determined nationally, with a view to minimizing adverse effects on the economy, on public health and on the quality of the environment, of projects or measures undertaken by them to mitigate or adapt to climate change” (Art. 4.1f).

In view of what observed above, agrofuels cannot be considered a measure pursuing the scope of the Convention on Climate Change. On the contrary, the negative impacts of large-scale production on land use, ecosystems, environmental health and human rights demonstrate their substantial dangerousness.

The efforts to consider comprehensively what the cycle of production of agrofuels means in practice at local, national and international level lead to judge this new technology inadequate to achieve both the objective of spreading clean energy - in order to face the severe challenges of climate change - and pursuing a sustainable development which implies an ongoing process of advancement aimed at the full development of human beings in all aspects of their life, in respect of their dignity and of the delicate balance with nature.

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