African Civil Society Statement on the G8′s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition
For a solidarity statement by UK Civil Society groups, see here.
African Agricultural Growth Corridors and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. – Who benefits, who loses?, Helena Paul and Ricarda Steinbrecher, Econexus
A week of protests is underway against the International Tree Biotechnology 2013 conerence in Asheville, North Carolina, from 25th May to 1st June. ArborGen, one of the conference sponsors, wants to commercially sell millions of GE eucalyptus trees in seven southern US states from South Carolina to Texas. Eucalyptus trees are a documented invasive species and are explosively flammable. The US Forest Service reports they will use twice the water of native trees. ArborGen claims GE trees can be used for climate change mitigation. The groups protesting the conference say GE trees are a false solution to climate change and will actually worsen it.
+ Press release about the protests by the Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered (GE) Trees, Global Justice Ecology Project, Earth First!, Dogwood Alliance, Biofuelwatch, Global Forest Coalition, REAL Cooperative
+ Article by Rachel Smolker: Genetically Engineered Trees and Glowing Synthetic Plants? No Thanks
Joint press release by Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered (GE) Trees, Global Justice Ecology Project, Earth First!, Dogwood Alliance, Biofuelwatch, Global Forest Coalition, REAL Cooperative
Joint Press Release by Campaign to STOP GE Trees, Global Justice Ecology Project, Earth First!, Dogwood Alliance, Global Forest Coalition and Biofuelwatch
On the 14th of May Biofuelwatch joined Friends of the Earth Scotland at the RBS headquarters in Edinburgh to hold the bank to account for its dirty investments into fossil fuels and big biomass.
In reaction to negative publicity and increasing public pressure, RBS has been making ever greater investments into so-called renewable energy projects in recent years in an attempt to green its image. In 2010 RBS renewable energy deals were worth £307m but this increased to £9.08bn by 2011. While this might sound like a positive step for a bank better known as the “Oil Bank of Scotland”, the reality is that these investments are at best a green façade designed to distract attention away from its continued commitment to destructive fossil fuel projects.
Perhaps even more worrying however, is the fact that a considerable number of the investments that RBS classifies as renewable, are in fact extremely environmentally and socially damaging energy generation projects such as big biomass and biofuels. Using these forms of bioenergy on a large scale has been shown to actually accelerate destruction of forest habitat, incentivise land grabbing in poor countries, push food prices up globally and, to add insult to injury, make climate change worse.
Despite big biomass being far from a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, in 2011 13% of all of RBS energy project financing was directed towards biomass projects. Since this time, RBS has offered loans to companies developing energy production from biomass as part of its strategic financing of the renewable energy sector.
In April 2012 Helius said that it was working with lenders including RBS and Lloyds Banking Group Plc to finance a £300 million power station in Avonmouth which would burn imported woodchips and pellets made from 1 million tonnes of wood. Then in November 2012, it was reported that Drax Plc had secured a £400 million ‘credit line’ loan from RBS, Lloyds Banking Group Plc and Barclays Plc to convert half of its power stations capacity to biomass. This move will result in Drax burning pellets made from almost 16 million tonnes of wood a year – the equivalent of 1.6 times the UK’s entire annual wood production.
RBS has also been an important investor in several biofuel refineries aswell, for example in Ensus’s wheat ethanol refinery in Teeside, which uses 1.1 million tonnes of wheat a year. This has been an important contributor to the UK becoming a net importer of wheat, thus helping to push up global prices of staple foods.
And RBS plans to expand these investments in the future. According to Andrew Buglass, head of energy at RBS, the bank is currently working on about five deals to support plants that will use biomass to generate electricity. The facilities, to be built from scratch, will each have a capacity of 50 to 150MW. Projects of this size may cost as much as £300 million.
At the same time, RBS has not stopped funding some of the most extreme energy projects in the world, including the tar sands project in Canada and mountain top removal projects in Appalachia in the USA. Oil from tar sand production releases three times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil, while the process known as Mountaintop Removal involves blasting the top off of mountains to access coal, destroying the mountains and communities around them in the process.
This is why on the 14th of May Biofuelwatch joined Friends of the Earth Scotland and other concerned organisations outside the RBS headquarters in Edinburgh during their AGM – to protest against RBS using our money (since RBS is a taxpayer owned bank) to invest in BOTH dirty fossil fuels AND in false renewable solutions such as biomass and biofuels.
RBS is not alone in investing in false renewable solutions, they join the Green Investment Bank (GIB) (who held their conference at RBS headquarters earlier in the week on the 9th of May) in lending significant funds to companies developing big biomass. Biofuelwatch have been running a campaign against the Green Investment Bank to stop them from doing this. You can read more about The Green Investment Bank here
U.S. public overwhelmingly rejects genetically engineered trees, Joint Press Release by Global Justice Ecology Project, Biofuelwatch and Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees
For a background briefing about Coal-to-Biomass Conversions in the UK, click here.
For immediate use 24th April 2013
50 people are taking part in a demonstration and rally outside the annual general meeting of Drax Plc, at the Grocers’ Hall in London, organised by Biofuelwatch  and supported by 16 other groups . Demonstrators are chanting “Drax Drax, what do you say? How many trees have you killed today?” and holding banners reading “Big Biomass: Fuelling Deforestation, Land-grabbing and Climate Disaster”, “Big Biomass is Greenwash not Renewable Energy” and “Drax the Destroyer!”. Biofuelwatch has called the demonstration to oppose Drax power station’s plans to convert half of its generating capacity to biomass, and to highlight the impacts that this will have in terms of increased deforestation, land-grabbing and carbon emissions.
Natalie Bennet, Leader of the Green Party in England and Wales attended the demonstration and addressed the crowd. She said: “I made the time to come today as this is a really important issue. We absolutely must stand against big biomass. We need to write “decarbonisation by 2030” into the Energy Bill and provide for the investment in solar, wind energy and energy conservation, which are the only answers for Britain.”
Oliver Munnion from Biofuelwatch who is taking part in today’s protest said: “I’m here today to dispel a modern myth that big biomass is sustainable, low-carbon energy. Drax isn’t going green – it’s cashing in on massive subsidies to the tune of half a billion pounds a year and trying to keep its old, dirty power station going for as long as possible. You can’t paint a green façade onto the UK’s most polluting power station. Big biomass and coal spell disaster for communities and the climate – it’s time these dinosaurs closed.”
Sophie Bastable, also attending the demonstration said: “In order for governments to meet renewable energy targets and to make dirty companies look green there is a massive push for biomass in the UK right now. But the fuel that Drax currently uses and will use much more of directly contributes to the destruction of biodiverse forests in North America. There is nothing sustainable about burning 1.6 times as much as the UK’s total annual wood supply in one power station every year. Creating such a vast new demand for wood will lead to more destruction of biodiverse forests and, whether directly or indirectly, more land-grabbing for tree plantations in the global South.”
Today’s protest coincides with the publication of an open letter to Drax Plc signed by 49 different organisations and networks worldwide, including Friends of the Earth International, the Global Forest Coalition and World Rainforest Movement . The letter concludes: “We oppose commercial and industrial scale bioenergy, and demand that the UK halt coal conversion plans and force these coal plants to shut down. Meanwhile focus must be redirected towards a serious reduction of energy consumption and dramatic measures to protect and restore forests and other ecosystems.”
Drax’s biomass plans will require pellets made from 15.8 million tonnes of wood each year, making it the biggest biomass-burning power station in the world. By comparison, the UK’s total annual wood production is only 10 million tonnes. Overall, energy companies in the UK are planning to burn up to 10 times as much wood as the UK produces ever year. Wood burned by Drax increasingly comes from whole trees felled for this purpose .
In addition to issues of deforestation and land-grabbing, recent scientific studies have shown that biomass used for electricity generation is actually more carbon intensive than burning coal . Duncan Law from Biofuelwatch said: “Burning biomass on the scale proposed will be even more carbon intensive than the coal it will replace, and result in a massive carbon debt stored just where we don’t want it, in the atmosphere. Far from being a low-carbon fuel, it’s a total climate disaster!”.
For local communities, coal to biomass conversions will mean decades more of high levels of pollution, since the conversions allow power stations to continue operating when they may otherwise have to close down . Reverend Paul Cawthorne, Environmental Officer for the Lichfield Diocese and a near-by resident to Ironbridge, another coal-fired power station converting to biomass said: “After the dash for gas comes the dash for wood and with similar uncertainties about how noxious emissions will affect our local air. Why do some people think cutting down forests in other countries is somehow better for the planet than using our local resources and putting effort into becoming more efficient in our domestic use of energy. This is absurd and culpable short-termism. Even the wood trade is warning ministers this is a disaster in the making.”
Notes to Editors:
 Biofuelwatch is a not-for-profit grassroots organisation set up to raise awareness of the negative impacts of industrial biofuels and bioenergy http://biofuelwatch.org.uk/
 The following organisations are formally supporting Taking DRAXtic Action: Campaign Against Climate Change; Carbon Trade Watch; Christian Ecology Link; Climate Justice Collective; Coal Action Network; Coal Action Scotland; Colombia Solidarity Campaign; Corporate Watch; Frack Free Somerset; Fuel Poverty Action; Gaia Foundation; London Mining Network; London Rising Tide; Occupy London Energy, Equity and Environment Group; Rising Tide UK; World Development Movement.
 The Open Letter to Drax can be found at
 The Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit organization working to protect forests in the Southern US, released a report entitled “The Use of Whole Trees in Wood Pellet Manufacturing,” in November 2012 documenting the fact that the top exporters of wood pellets in the region rely heavily on cutting down whole trees to satisfy demand from European power stations. Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director for Dogwood Alliance said “Energy companies in the UK, including Drax, RWE and E.On are converting large, old, dirty and inefficient coal power stations to biomass all in the name of reducing carbon emissions, but the reality is that this shift will accelerate climate change while also driving destructive industrial logging in the world’s most biologically diverse temperate forests.” Through direct investigation and research, the report documents the use of whole trees from Southern forests by the largest wood pellet manufacturers and exporters in the Southern US. Pellet manufacturers such as Georgia Biomass, a wholly owned subsidiary of RWE, and Enviva, a major supplier of Drax and E.On are highlighted in the report as using or if not open, planning to use, whole trees. The report can be found here http://www.dogwoodalliance.org/2012/11/new-report-discredits-uk-energy-company-claims-that-pellets-come-from-wood-waste/
 For a list of studies into the carbon impacts of biomass electricity, see www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/resources-on-biomass. In addition, the report “Dirtier than coal?” published by RSPB, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace can be found here www.rspb.org.uk/Images/biomass_report_tcm9-326672.pdf
 According to a briefing by Department for Energy and Climate for the House of Lords on 14th February 2013, “the conversion of existing coal generating plant to biomass or higher levels of biomass co-firing is a way of keeping open some existing coal plant that would otherwise close before 2016 under environmental legislation, and therefore improve capacity margins over this decade.” (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldsecleg/123/12306.htm)