In defense of biofuels

GERARD CERLES/AFP/Getty Images EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs has a great new blog, and he’s wasted no time in taking on a controversial issue. Biofuels have taken a lot of hits lately, but Piebalgs says the relationship between them and food prices is overblown: Biofuels, have become a scapegoat for recent commodity price increases that ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
595579_080408_eu_energy2.jpg
595579_080408_eu_energy2.jpg

GERARD CERLES/AFP/Getty Images

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs has a great new blog, and he's wasted no time in taking on a controversial issue. Biofuels have taken a lot of hits lately, but Piebalgs says the relationship between them and food prices is overblown:

Biofuels, have become a scapegoat for recent commodity price increases that have other causes – poor harvests worldwide and growing food demand generated by increased standards of living in China and India. In Europe, we use less than 2 percent of our cereals production for biofuels, so they do not contribute significantly to higher food prices in the European context. Even if we reach our 10% biofuels target by 2020, the price impact will be small. Our modeling suggests that it will cause a 8 to 10% increase in rape seed prices and 3 to 6% increase in cereal prices. Increase in the price of the latest has very small influence on the cost of bread. It makes up around 4 per cent of the consumer price of a loaf.

GERARD CERLES/AFP/Getty Images

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs has a great new blog, and he’s wasted no time in taking on a controversial issue. Biofuels have taken a lot of hits lately, but Piebalgs says the relationship between them and food prices is overblown:

Biofuels, have become a scapegoat for recent commodity price increases that have other causes – poor harvests worldwide and growing food demand generated by increased standards of living in China and India. In Europe, we use less than 2 percent of our cereals production for biofuels, so they do not contribute significantly to higher food prices in the European context. Even if we reach our 10% biofuels target by 2020, the price impact will be small. Our modeling suggests that it will cause a 8 to 10% increase in rape seed prices and 3 to 6% increase in cereal prices. Increase in the price of the latest has very small influence on the cost of bread. It makes up around 4 per cent of the consumer price of a loaf.

Even if price food price distortions are minor, I’m still not convinced the biofuels are worth the trouble given that it’s not entirely clear whether they really do anything to reduce greenhouse emissions once land clearance is taken into account. Still, Piebalgs’ blog should be great opportunity to hear from an informed voice in the debate.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.