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?Bio-energy must be Green; nature cut in EU?; Vietnam halts cull?

EU must ensure bioenergy is really 'green'

Bioenergy, which can be defined as energy generated from renewable biomass (i.e. living plants and plant components), has been hailed as one of the key weapons in the battle against global warming. However, as the European Commission releases its Biomass Action Plan, BirdLife has warned the EU that it must put in place strong environmental safeguards. Without these, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be negligible and impacts on the broader environment will be severe.

BirdLife, along with WWF, Greenpeace and the European Environmental Bureau, believes that bioenergy can become a key source of energy in the future, and welcomes the EU's efforts to increase its use. However there are serious concerns that the EU Biomass Action Plan does not guarantee environmental and social safeguards.

These measures should apply to both European and imported bioenergy, and include checks on the greenhouse gas balance of the crop. Due to their high level of inputs during the cultivation and transformation phases, certain biomass production systems result in levels of greenhouse gas emissions which are not much lower than those of fossil fuels. Furthermore, the impact of biomass production on biodiversity, water and soil needs to be taken into account. This is already a major problem in the tropics, where millions of hectares of forest have already been converted into soya, sugarcane and palm oil plantations."Travelling in a car fuelled by biodiesel seems like a great, environmentally-friendly thing to do. However, if the biodiesel has come from soya planted in the Brazilian Amazon or palm oil from Indonesia, the green consumer is likely to be unwittingly driving another nail into the coffin of the world's great ecosystems." Said Ariel Brunner, BirdLife

As well as worries over the negligible impact on greenhouse gas emissions, there are obvious major concerns over the potential for rampant destruction of habitats and biodiversity. This was thrown sharply into focus earlier this week when a new species of cat-like mammal was discovered in Borneo – in an area earmarked for conversion to oil palm plantations."If managed sustainably, bioenergy can help us to cut greenhouse gas emissions and restore degraded land," said Ariel Brunner, Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife International. "However, poorly managed production does little to reduce emissions and can have a devastating impact on the environment."

"Large scale biomass plantation projects like the massive planned oil palm plantation in Kalimantan, Indonesia, entails the destruction of vast swathes of rainforest. This not only affects valuable ecosystems, but contributes to climate change as the rainforests are an important carbon sink," said Jean-Philippe Denruyter, Climate Change and Energy Policy Officer at WWF. "We are calling on the EU to ensure such projects will not be supported through biofuel imports into the EU." UK proposes slashing funds for nature

As part of their Presidency of the European Union, the UK Government has proposed cutting 25 per cent of the 'green' EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funds, in an attempt to spare the much-criticised subsidies to intensive agriculture.

However, these proposals make a mockery of the UK commitment to sustainability, BirdLife International said today, as Foreign Affairs Ministers met in Brussels to discuss the future of the EU’s Financial Perspective.

In an attempt to reach an agreement, the UK government has proposed to slash the already tiny budget for rural development: the only part of the CAP budget that supports environmentally sensitive farming in the EU. This proposal, if accepted, would spare the lion’s share of direct subsidies that go to the biggest and most intensive farmers in the EU.The budget for sustainable farming is already too small to meet the EU’s own commitment to halting the decline of wildlife by 2010. Crucial support schemes to help wildlife, declining species and environmentally-friendly farmers currently receive a mere 4 per cent of the total CAP budget.

"This proposal is an insult to EU taxpayers, to rural communities and to wildlife. It is robbing the last few budget crumbs for the environment to protect the big cake shared by a few powerful recipients of subsidies. It is not only inconsistent with the last CAP reform, which reiterated the need for more money for sustainable farming, but with the entire UK sustainability agenda." said Giovanna Pisano, BirdLife

Moves to cut the rural development even further conflict with the direction of recent agricultural reforms – strongly supported by the UK – which sought to boost the role of rural development within the CAP and gradually reduce direct subsidies.Environmental campaigners have also expressed serious concerns about the future funding of the EU’s environment programme, LIFE+, which is not even allocated a budget in the compromise proposals, as well as the deletion of any reference to Natura 2000 financing. Clairie Papazoglou, Head of EU Policy at BirdLife International said, "The Presidency’s compromise causes us a great deal of concern as funding for the environment remains unclear. Unless the LIFE+ budget is increased from the proposed 0.2 per cent of the overall budget, some of Europe’s most precious habitats and wildlife, such the Imperial Eagle and Great Bustard, face a very uncertain future." Vietnam government stops wild bird culls

The Vietnamese Government has ordered an immediate halt to the culls of wild birds in Ho Chi Minh City, and the cities of Da Nang and Hue. City authorities had embarked on the culls, using poison and guns, in an attempt to prevent the spread of avian flu from the countryside.

The culls mostly targeted feral pigeons, but egrets and herons were also killed, and one city official said the aim was to empty the city skies of wild birds.

Representatives of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization met the Vietnamese Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to discuss the culls. The Ministry had already explained that the cities were acting unilaterally, and that that the Vietnamese government had not authorised or recommended these culls.In an official letter dated 6 December 2005 and sent to the three cities, Mr Bui Quang Anh, Director General of the Department of Animal Health at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, wrote: "The killing of pigeons and wild birds is not a national policy. This practice is not only an inappropriate measure but is also likely to cause bad effects to the ecosystem. Some international organisations have already expressed their great concerns regarding this practice. The Department of Animal Health at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has therefore requested Provincial Departments of Animal Health to advise Provincial Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development, Provincial People's Committees to stop the killing of pigeons and wild birds.""Attempts to cull wild birds are even more misguided – the target is wrong and the approach is completely ineffective." said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife International Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife International's Director of Science and Policy, asserts that the current focus on wild birds is misplaced and a potentially dangerous diversion of energy, effort and resources. "Attempts to cull wild birds are even more misguided – the target is wrong and the approach is completely ineffective."

Juan Lubroth, FAO senior officer responsible for infectious animal diseases, had earlier commented: "[Culls are] unlikely to make any significant contribution to the protection of humans against avian influenza. There are other, much more important measures to be considered that deserve priority attention."

4th July 2014