Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to a United Nations report, the early Obama era biofuel push exacerbated widespread food shortages, causing severe hardship in poor countries. But this track record of disaster has not deterred Biden from flirting with biofuels as a path to greener aviation.
Airline CEOs, Biden officials consider green-fuel breaks
By DAVID KOENIG
Chief executives of the nation’s largest passenger and cargo airlines met with key Biden administration officials Friday to talk about reducing emissions from airplanes and push incentives for lower-carbon aviation fuels.
The White House said the meeting with climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also touched on economic policy and curbing the spread of COVID-19 — travel has been a vector for the virus. But industry officials said emissions dominated the discussion.
United Airlines said CEO Scott Kirby asked administration officials to support incentives for sustainable aviation fuel and technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In December, United said it invested an undisclosed amount in a carbon-capture company partly owned by Occidental Petroleum.
A United Nations aviation group has concluded that biofuels will remain a tiny source of aviation fuel for several years. Some environmentalists would prefer the Biden administration to impose tougher emissions standards on aircraft rather than create breaks for biofuels.
Read more: https://apnews.com/article/scott-kirby-climate-climate-change-airlines-pete-buttigieg-6bed112b680f66762efe9a6ebf476c31
Here is what the United nations says about the 2009 Obama push for biofuels;
The global food crises
When the global financial and economic crisis hit, a large number of developing countries were still reeling from the economic and social impacts of the earlier global food crisis. In 2008, the cereal price index reached a peak 2.8 times higher than in 2000; as of July 2010, it remained 1.9 times higher than in 2000 (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010a; 2010b).
Prior to the global financial crisis, concerns about the spikes in food and energy prices were at the centre of public and media attention. Global leaders and policymakers were concerned about the potential welfare impacts of the sharp increases in the prices of food commodities, such as rice, corn (maize), wheat and soybeans, as well as global food security. There was concern about how higher food prices were adversely affecting low-income consumers and efforts to reduce poverty, as well as the political and social stability of poor countries and food-importing countries. These concerns have subsequently heightened with the social tensions, unrest and food riots that have broken out in several countries.
However, attention to the fragile and unsustainable global food security situation was pushed off the centre stage of international concerns and replaced by the global financial and economic crisis and the later push towards budget cuts and fiscal austerity in most major industrialized countries. Unfortunately, the food crisis is still far from over as prices have been rising once again since 2009 (Johnston and Bargawi, 2010). The poor remain especially vulnerable, as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned repeatedly. The FAO’s world food-price index had risen to a record high at the time of writing in early 2011, topping the previous all- time high set in June 2008. As a result, rising food prices have driven an estimated 44 million people into poverty (World Bank, 2011). Furthermore, the food riots in Mozambique in September 2010 and recent protests in several North African countries seem to reflect the continued impacts of high food prices on the poor and other vulnerable groups.
Higher energy prices and demand for biofuels
As the search for cheaper energy sources continues, the demand for biofuels has increased. A major source of the growth in demand for food crops is for the production of bioethanol and biodiesel. Developed countries annually provide $13 billion in subsidies and protection to encourage biofuels production, which have diverted 120 million tons of cereals away from human consumption for conversion to fuel. In the United States alone, 119 million out of 416 million tons of grain produced in 2009 went to ethanol distilleries. The grain would have been enough to feed 350 million people for a year! An unpublished World Bank report found that biofuels forced global food prices up by 75 per cent—far more than previously estimated (Chakrabortty, 2008).
Read more: https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/rwss/docs/2011/chapter4.pdf (PDF Copy here)
Poor countries were already in trouble in 2008, before Obama took office. Obama didn’t start the biofuel push, but Obama poured fuel on the fire, by pushing for more biofuel mandates, further constricting the supply of desperately needed food to the global market.
To his credit, Obama was also the President who pulled back from the precipice, when it became clear how much harm biofuel mandates were causing.
Fast forward to 2021, food supply today seems fairly stable. But as the 2008-10 crisis shows, we shouldn’t take this stability and abundance for granted.
The UN believes the 2008-10 crisis was caused by crop failure, fuel shortages, commodity speculation and biofuel mandates.
How do the conditions which led to the 2008-10 crisis compare to today? In my opinion, the parallels are too close for comfort.
Much of the world has lowered interest rates and passed stimulus bills, to try to prevent a new great depression by flooding markets with cheap money. Low interest rate environments increase the risk of speculative commodity bubbles, like those which occurred in 2007-8.
Biden has moved to restrict fuel supply, by banning federal leases. In time this will feed forward to increased US fuel imports and upward pressure on global fuel prices.
China had significant crop failures in 2020, because a sizeable chunk of their arable land on the Yangtze River got washed a way by the big flood. A lot of levies and infrastructure was also destroyed. China is reportedly buying record amounts of food on the international market. There is a risk the Chinese food buying spree might continue for an extended period, putting pressure on poor countries which need to import food.
Now Biden appears to be flirting with biofuel mandates.
A substantial renewed Biden biofuel push on top of everything else which is happening might be all it takes to fully restore the conditions which led to the 2008-10 food crisis.
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