Report finds EU Biomass policies are fuelling land-grabbing in the global South

Report finds EU Biomass policies are fuelling land-grabbing in the global South

9th June 2014 – A new report published today [1] by campaign group Biofuelwatch [2] shows that the growing demand for wood created by UK and EU biomass policies is fuelling land-grabs in Africa and South America. Despite finding that nearly all of the wood imported by the UK and other EU countries for bioenergy comes from North America and elsewhere in Europe, including Russia, the report shows that companies are taking advantage of the expectations raised by bioenergy policies in order to acquire large tracts of land in the global South.

Report author and Biofuelwatch co-Director Almuth Ernsting explained that: “Although there is no evidence for wood being supplied to UK power stations from countries in the global South at present, there is alarming evidence of UK and EU support for biomass electricity being used as an excuse for landgrabbing in Brazil, Ghana and elsewhere.”

The report examines evidence of links between pro-biomass policies in the EU and land-grabbing internationally. It is the most extensive to date, and its conclusion highlights the ‘paradox’ of the fact that land-grabs in the global South are being triggered by EU bioenergy demand, even in the absence of direct EU imports. Despite the assertions by industry analysts and policy-makers that biomass demand is likely to be increasingly sourced from the global South, findings presented in the report suggest that demand is much more likely to be continued to be met through increased production in North America and Europe, including Russia.

An example cited in the report is the UK company Mere Environmental, which claims to be planting 5,000 hectares of land in Ghana with teak trees and to have acquired rights to a further 25,000 hectares. Mere Environmental announced near-term plans for importing large-quantities of woodchips for UK power stations into Holyhead Port, but those appear highly questionable, given that teak takes around 20 years to mature and that the economic case for then exporting it for bioenergy is difficult to make.

This is just one of many examples of companies citing European bioenergy demand as a rationale for acquiring land for tree plantations without any credible plans to actually export wood for this purpose. Instead, companies appear to be exploiting expectations of rising wood demand created by UK and EU bioenergy policies in order to convince investors to finance land-acquisitions for monoculture tree plantations in the global South.

A major conclusion of the report is that the indirect nature of land-grabs that appear to have occurred as a result of UK and EU biomass policies means that they cannot be addressed through future sustainability standards. There is a significant danger that the rapidly growing demand for biomass electricity and therefore wood in Europe will mirror the level of land-grabs associated with EU biofuel demand.

Almuth Ernsting said: “The complex and indirect way in which EU biomass policies are leading to land-grabbing in countries of the global South show that there is only one way of preventing a repeat of the large-scale land-grabs for biofuels: That is to stop the subsidies and other incentives that are driving the fast-growing demand for wood-based bioenergy.”


Media contact: Oliver Munnion, 07917693337,

Notes to editors:

[1] Biofuelwatch is a not-for-profit grassroots organisation set up to raise awareness of the negative impacts of industrial biofuels and bioenergy

[2] Executive summary:

Full report: