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australia: stopping the flow of agrofuels in the asia pacific region

The agrofuels sector is expanding rapidly, with so-called ‘biofuels’ being marketed as a clean, green solution to climate change and oil vulnerability. The Australian government is expected to look more and more to Asia for imports of agrofuels feedstocks, such as palm oil, in future years.

australia-wheat-harvesterHowever the production of agrofuels feedstocks can have serious social and environmental impacts. These include increased species and ecosystem loss, hunger and poverty as small-scale famers lose their land, the rapid expansion of plantations at the expense of natural forests, and even increased greenhouse gas emissions as a result of intensive production methods. These concerns are being overlooked in the rush to develop this lucrative new industry.

 

what happened

Friends of the Earth’s long-term goal is to halt the expansion of the palm oil industry in the region. In 2009 Friends of the Earth Australia initiated a project designed to develop a new national campaign in Australia, and develop a common understanding and shared regional campaign activities with other Friends of the Earth groups in Indonesia (Friends of the Earth Indonesia/WALHI), Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia/Sahabat Alam Malaysia), and Papua New Guinea (Friends of the Earth Papua New Guinea/CELCOR). 

 

FoE Australia hired project coordinators who initiated research and travelled to affected areas both within Australia and Indonesia, to get a better understanding of the real world impacts of agrofuels production, to strengthen links with regional campaigners, and to map future activities. Communications by telephone and skype were supplemented with face-to-face meetings in Jakarta (February 2009), Bangladesh (May 2009), and Bali, Indonesia (May 2010).

 

In Australia, campaigners participated in multiple public meetings, and ongoing government roundtable and lobby meetings. They also produced a range of communications materials to assist partnership development and education with both national and regional NGOs.

 

FoE Australia succeeded in developing a clear and targeted national agrofuels campaign strategy, and built and strengthened relationships with Australian networks working on palm oil, deforestation issues and agrofuels.

 

what changed

Although this campaign is only in its infancy, there have already been some key successes. In particular, FoE Australia and partner groups in Australia focused on halting the use of palm oil products in food manufacturing in Australia. In 2009 this resulted in several major food manufacturers agreeing to remove palm oil from food production. These included Cadburys (chocolate), KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) and Woolworths (Australia's biggest retailer).

 

The campaign is supporting the work of a National Government Senator to develop a Bill to introduce national legislation introducing mandatory labelling for all food products containing palm oil in Australia.

 

what was learned

Friends of the Earth Australia found that China, and to some degree India, are the main recipients of palm oil from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Previously it had been thought that the EU was the main importer. This knowledge will be extremely important in terms of developing and targeting agrofuels campaigning in the region.

 

The project has enabled FoE Australia to establish a core project volunteer team but securing further funding will be essential: some important collaborative activities were missed in 2009 because funding was not available. Yet fundraising is difficult in Australia, because the campaign is new, and many potential donors still believe ‘biofuels’ are a clean green energy source.

 

In addition, agrofuels is a complex area that touches on many different campaigns, including deforestation, food sovereignty, human rights and climate change. This can be a challenge when it comes to developing and structuring a campaign that links into and meets the needs of different campaigns in different countries.

 

what next? 

FoE Australia will be seek to secure additional campaign funding to maintain paid staff throughout the life cycle of the developed campaign plan. It will also develop a joint position paper for APac members to discuss and develop. Work is also continuing on developing a common regional campaign target. 

 

Research into Malaysia’s pivotal investment and China’s impact within the region will also continue, although it is difficult to access verifiable research data from Chinese government agencies or academic institutions. Research will also focus on the use of plantations within offsetting programmes as companies seek to ramp up their profits with the onset of carbon reduction market-based mechanisms, such as carbon trading schemes. 

 

Education activities will focus on both business and decision makers, and will challenge the common misconception that agrofuels are carbon neutral and a green solution to mitigate climate change. 

 

with thanks to our funders: the sigrid rausing trust

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