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Action Alert: Please Tell the EU: Don't Sacrifice Birds and Ecosystems for Biofuel Expansion

There are limits to agricultural intensification that if surpassed threaten European wildlife and terrestrial ecosystem sustainability

By Climate Ark, a project of EcoInternet - August 5, 2007

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Additional Background

Europe's bird and insect populations, as well as heavily stressed terrestrial ecosystems, face decimation as the European Commissioner for Agriculture plans to scrap land set-asides for the 2008 season. This unexpected move is a response to rising grain prices – caused by the growing biofuel sector and worsening climate change impacts.

Europe’s common farmland birds have declined by nearly 50% since 1980, as a result of intensive agriculture, including the grey partridge, corn bunting, turtle dove, lapwing, whinchat, tree sparrow, skylark and linnet (see study at tinyurl.com/2ezulh). 45% of Europe’s butterflies are at risk of extinction and a recent study found 80% declines in bee diversity and 70% declines in the diversity of wild flowers dependent on pollination on hundreds of sites in the UK and Netherlands (tinyurl.com/yojh9w). As the authors of the study warned, the future Europe's ecosystem functionality such as pollination and provisions of food supplies may be at risk as pollinators are driven into extinction.

Set-asides were initially introduced for market reasons, but in an already intensive agricultural landscape, large numbers of European birds, insects and some mammals have come to depend on them for their survival (tinyurl.com/3yrw6y and tinyurl.com/2mu2a4). The EU have just commissioned a study about the environmental benefits of set-asides and a longer-term review was supposed to look at ways of protecting our wildlife with more targeted farming policies. In the meantime, however, plans to scrap all set-asides for the next two seasons have been announced. Millions of birds could be left without food and nesting sites next spring, and there will be little hope of Europe meeting its commitment of halting biodiversity losses by 2010.

Politicians claim that there is no alternative but to increase Europe’s agricultural production as food prices rise – but rising food prices are the direct result of Europe and other governments promoting the expansion of biofuels. Furthermore, the biofuel industry have long been lobbying for the abolition of set-asides in order to open up more land for biofuel production. Scrapping set-asides is likely to lead to more agricultural intensification, possibly past sustainable terrestrial ecosystem limits; and more intensively farmed monocultures for biofuels, with no evidence that this will mitigate climate change.

A study considered by the European Commission before the Biofuel Directive was passed in 2003 (tinyurl.com/3cf9fs) found that using all 5.6 million hectares of set-asides in 15 EU nations would reduce those countries carbon dioxide emissions by no more than 0.3% - and even that figure ignores the considerable nitrous oxide and soil carbon emissions. Road fuel demand would be reduced by a maximum of 1.5%. By comparison, a study by the German Ministry of Environment shows that carbon dioxide emissions from road transport could be reduced by 11-24% if a speed limit of 100-120 km/h was enforced (tinyurl.com/2zx6eu) – and there is considerable scope for cutting emissions through strict fuel efficiency standards and more sustainable transport and planning strategies.

Biofuel expansion for the European market is already causing massive deforestation, biodiversity losses, displacements of local communities and loss of food sovereignty in the global South – now Europe’s wildlife and remaining terrestrial ecosystems are likely to become another victim. Please send the letter below to ask Europe’s politicians not to scrap land set-asides until they are substituted for a more sustainable EU agricultural policy based on organic agriculture and biodiverse mixed farming system. Biofuel targets and incentives must be abolished now, to protect biodiversity and food supplies worldwide.

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Gray Partridge threatened by biofuels
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