November 30, 2010 Leave a comment
The Program on America and the Global Economy (PAGE) has sponsored, in partnership with the Wilson Center on the Hill and the Brazil Institute, a series of conferences over the growing importance and role of biofuels in the international market. The conference, “Biofuels: Food, Fuel, and the Future?” was held in July to discuss the impact of ethanol production and development. Following the conference, a subsequent publication of the same name was released, and in September, the event “Classifying Biofuels Subsidies” focused on the global trade impact of ethanol production.
The following summary is from the Brazil Institute’s event on sustainable biofuels held on November 10th. The video archive of this event, and the presentations discussed therein, can be viewed here.
On Nov. 10, the Brazil Institute hosted a seminar on biofuels, energy demands, and their implications for global climate change viewed from a Brazilian perspective. Ambassador André Amado, undersecretary-general for energy and technology with the Ministry of External Relations, discussed the benefits of biofuels, most specifically sugarcane ethanol.
Biofuels have stimulated economic growth in rural areas, as sugarcane production has increased– creating 835,000 jobs, 95 percent of which are in the formal sector. This expansion has also had substantial labor input, improving the standard of living for many rural laborers. Also, ethanol production has proven not to require subsidies and can fill gaps created by other renewable energy sources. Most importantly, increased production of ethanol has occurred alongside a substantial increase in food production, allaying fears that food production would be displaced the biofuels expansion. To further prevent this, Brazil recently passed agro-ecological zoning laws, which vastly restrict the amount of land that can be used for sugarcane production.
Ambassador Amado pointed out that the potential benefits to be gained from increased use in biofuels are an environmental incentive: the use of sugarcane ethanol over the past 30 years has saved 850 tones of carbon from being emitted. As demand for energy increases due to economic development, more renewable resources will be needed to meet this demand in a responsible manner. The current world energy matrix is less than 10 percent renewable, whereas in Brazil it is closer to 50 percent. Politically, the bulk of the world’s petroleum resources are controlled by a small number of countries, giving them an enormous amount of leverage over world energy prices – a potentially dangerous situation. Since sugarcane can be grown in so many parts of the world (over 100 countries), increasing the number of producers would be geostrategically advantageous. In conclusion, he pointed out the remaining barriers to bioethanol becoming a world commodity– chiefly, the lack of international cooperation and the threat to vested business interests that this new industry represents, namely the oil, food, and car industries.