Agrofuels - in depth

Agrofuels (also known as 'biofuels') are putting major and growing pressure on our land, food and forests, as well as damaging both people and planet. Our campaign aims to stop Europe's drive for agrofuels – for use in our cars, and increasingly planes and power stations.

What are agrofuels?

Agrofuels are liquid fuels made from plant and biological material – often food crops. They can be burned the same as petrol and diesel – and 'dropped in' to the engines of our cars and airplanes.

The most common bio-diesels are derived from vegetable oils such as soy, palm, rapeseed, sunflower, and jatropha oils. The most common bio-ethanols are from maize, sugarcane, sugar beet, and wheat.

Some of these raw materials, such as palm oil, soy and jatropha, are linked with devastating environmental and social impacts. All raw materials have negative indirect impacts.

Food versus fuel?

Most agrofuel feedstocks are food commodities, and require large amounts of productive land, reducing our ability to provide for a hungry world, while feeding Europe's cars and planes.

Millions of poor people are going hungry because of rising food prices. The boom in agrofuels is a major factor increasing both food prices and price volatility – driven by political targets like the European Union's target for 10% of transport energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Ruined livelihoods

Huge areas of land in poor countries are being snatched up, often by European companies, to produce agrofuels. These 'land grabs' harm some of the world's poorest people – depriving communities of land and water for growing essential food crops, stripping them of their livelihoods, and creating violent conflicts and displacement.

Africa has been hit particularly hard: over five million hectares of land – an area the size of Denmark – have been grabbed in Africa to produce agrofuels. This figure is potentially much larger, with possibly 60 percent of land grabbed in Africa used for agrofuels.

Making climate change worse, not better

Agrofuels' 'green' image is a myth: there is clear evidence that agrofuels result in higher carbon emissions than normal petrol and diesel.

The indirect effects

When land used for food or feed production is turned over to growing agrofuel crops for Europe, farmed land expands to fill the deficit elsewhere – often into forests and habitats in South America and Southeast Asia. This results in substantial greenhouse gas emissions, as well as deforestation, and biodiversity loss. 'Indirect land use change' is currently ignored by the European Union when the carbon balance for agrofuels is calculated.

Real solutions

European governments must support better use of public transport, and improved facilities for cycling and walking. In the medium term, cars should be powered by renewable electricity. The immediate priority is to improve the fuel efficiency of petrol and diesel cars.

Europe must fully account for the greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and 'indirect land use change' caused by expanding agrofuels. We call for the elimination of agrofuel targets and subsidies (for example the European Union's Renewable Energy Directive's 10% transport targets) – instead prioritising energy reduction in transport and food sovereignty principles. We also call for an end to land grabbing, by ensuring communities land rights are upheld and financial speculation of food commodities is reined in.

This campaign is part of our Food, Agriculture and Biodiversity Programme to halt biodiversity loss and to challenge unsustainable food and farming. We advocate for an ecological and fair agriculture that protects wildlife and natural resources, supports family farms, and reduces our impact on developing countries. We coordinate four campaigns: to protect biodiversity; reform the European Union's agriculture policy; halt the growing of genetically modified crops; and prevent the expansion of agrofuels. As part of our vision, we play an active role in building a movement for food sovereignty.