An “Agrofuels Network” has been created in SEAPRISE to share solutions to the detrimental socio-cultural-environmental impacts caused by increased prioritisation of industrial agriculture, i.e., large-scale monocultures producing fuels from crops like corn, sugarcane, soy and even trees . Many of these projects are damaging the livelihood of local farmers as well as the biodiversity upon which the health of the earth depends. Soil fertility is degraded, chemical inputs increase, sequestered carbon is released, and indigenous communities and biodiversity are damaged when land is converted to monocultures.

In 2008 members of CEESP and others worked together for the successful adoption of Agrofuels Resolution 4.083 at the IUCN Congress in Barcelona. The resolution called on governments to suspend all incentives for agrofuel and agroenergy from industrial monocultures, and it urged governments, to put in place regulatory systems based on an analysis of their potential social, environmental and human rights impacts, before approving agrofuels projects.

Another resolution adopted in Barcelona (R. 4.091), relevant to addressing the agrofuels problem, urges IUCN to promote Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) as a tool for protecting biodiversity. Use of a SEA enables governments and interested citizens to predict impacts before specific projects are considered.

They are used by the World Bank for projects it funds, so the Bank or even a development entity, could fund the assessment. Some governments are already using SEAs to predict the impacts of extractive industries such as mining and onshore and offshore oil production. The SEA is effective because it is conducted well before individual projects have been identified. By identifying, preventing, and compensating or otherwise mitigating the social, health and environmental implications of the program being assessed, it enhances its benefits and can prevent expensive and damaging errors.

It is hoped that IUCN, will sponsor workshops on using Strategic Environmental Assessment. For information on how SEA can be used, see the website of the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment. .

Another opportunity for IUCN is in its “partnerships” with industries. One goal of this partnering is to learn from one another, and in these times of worsening climate change, industries need to learn how to do more to protect the earth’s biodiversity. For those industries that develop biofuels, itIUCN is in an ideal position to recommend improvements to the sustainability contracts they enter into with their suppliers. Sustainability contracts are usually very general. This is not enough. Suppliers must be required to make enforceable commitments, not just promises, to attempt to follow principles as are found in Shell’s supplier contracts. Protection of human rights needs to go far beyond labor issues. They must assure that the participation, rights and needs of local people are adequately provided for. What some industries see as “idle lands” and opportunities to develop, many such lands are critical to people who depend on them for food. They need to be classified as “no-go lands” as well. In addition, suppliers need to go beyond attempting to avoid only “high” biodiversity: All aspects of biodiversity, especially forests, need protection.

Soils need special protection because the cultivation and harvesting of agrofuels increases carbon emissions. A recent study “Carbon Mitigation by Biofuels or by Saving and Restoring Forests?” (SCIENCE, 17 August 2007, Vol 317) concludes: “In all cases, forestation of an equivalent area of land would sequester two to nine times more carbon over a 30-year period than the emissions avoided by the use of the biofuel.“ There is an urgent need for all countries to protect forests, and for developed countries to fund forest protection and reforestation. Programs to do this must benefit indigenous people dependant on forests.

Massive agrofuel production cannot be part of the solution to climate change, and its contribution to meeting the excessive transportation fuel needs of developed countries is very small. Traditional and appropriate uses of “biofuels”, however, are essential for sustainable livelihoods in the developing world. Our goal is to protect them and to support their needs for better and healthier lives. Please let me know if you wish to join this SEAPRISE group for sharing information, asking questions, discussing of these issues.

Doris Cellarius