Geneva, Switzerland, (19 March 2013)
Complex developments in the field of biofuel policy – and how developing countries can participate in this growing energy market while sufficiently taking account of related issues such as food security and technological progress – were the subject of debate by experts at a meeting on 19 March.
The meeting, titled Trends in Global Biofuels Markets: Sustainability Policy and Trade, was organized jointly by UNCTAD, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
Biofuels currently offer the only cost-competitive alternative to fossil fuels in the transport sector, due in particular to their compatibility with existing vehicles and energy infrastructure. Nevertheless, their use, efforts to support them based on environmental concerns, fluctuating prices in international agricultural markets, and complex policies related to energy have created a confusing picture for governments trying to set astute strategies for energy, agriculture, food security and economic growth.
The meeting was staged to review recent trends in order to help in the development of coherent and coordinated policies both nationally and internationally. In a joint statement, the sponsoring organizations said that the meeting would be “a bid to improve policy coherence in this particularly complex field, and to bring together the separate discussions taking place both in national capitals and in various parts of the international governance architecture.”
The aim was to identify constructive proposals on how to reconcile expanded use of biofuels with such issues as food security and environmental sustainability, while at the same time allowing technological progress to take place in a manner that enables developing countries, if they wish, to participate in the growing biofuels energy market.
Among the complexities of the matter, said the sponsoring agencies, were “persistent distortions in international markets for agricultural commodities and complex policies for energy-related products and services.” They added that “in the European Union, proposals are on the table to revisit renewable fuel legislation, while in the United States, high feed prices have spurred debate over blending mandates”, which designate the percentage of biofuels to be mixed with petroleum.
They also noted that “it is important that new policies and rules lead to improved environmental outcomes, in particular in the area of greenhouse gas emissions as countries strive to intensify action against climate change. However, policymakers also need to ensure that producers in other countries are not unfairly disadvantaged by changes in policy frameworks. In particular, it must be noted that developing countries have the ethical right to pursue biofuels programmes that address their economic priorities, facilitate exploitation of their comparative advantages, and contribute to rural development.”
Participating in the meeting were government officials, energy experts, development economists, representatives of the private sector, and representatives of environmental organizations.
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