Criticism of arable farming for biofuel

The Evangelical Church in the Rhineland urges more decisive action on climate protection. Germany should push EU to take real lead and set ambitious goals, says vice president of Germany's second-largest regional church Petra Bosse-Huber in interview. In it, she criticizes the cultivation of crops for biofuel as irresponsible, saying that it reduces the supply of food in poor countries and makes it more expensive.

epd: Together with a delegation from the Rhineland church leadership and the Evangelical Development Service (EED), they visited church-supported projects in India aimed at climate protection. With which findings?

Bosse-Huber: India is a country where high-tech industry and downright archaic agriculture coexist. Contradictions in the globalized world become visible here between those who have water, land and diverse opportunities for living, and the poor who are deprived of these opportunities. I was impressed by how EED projects with staying power in Indian villages have decisively improved people's quality of life and at the same time contribute to climate protection – for example by installing biogas plants and reforestation programs. Long-term development partnerships have proven their worth in this context.

epd: What can Germany learn from India in terms of climate protection?

Bosse-Huber: India faces task of developing economically without massively increasing greenhouse gas emissions. There is also an attempt to avoid the mistakes we made in Europe during industrialization. There is a higher ecological awareness in many places in India than I would have expected. For example, some states have banned plastic bags – I would like to see us achieve something similar in Germany.

epd: Development aid for emerging countries like India is questioned again and again. Is it necessary?

Bosse-Huber: Of course, India itself would have enough financial potential and know-how to create sufficient development opportunities for its own population. At present, however – just as in other emerging countries – the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Even if this is primarily a matter for those responsible in India, we cannot stand idly by if we care about the people there. In addition, we are partly responsible for the living conditions under which the poorest of the poor exist in India.

epd: What does optimal aid for developing and emerging countries look like – also with a view to climate protection??

Bosse-Huber: The general principle is that people can only be helped if they help themselves. This means that the transfer of money and know-how must take place in a spirit of partnership, and local experts and stakeholders must be closely involved. This is the only way, for example, to establish a sustainable, decentralized energy supply – at a time when not all bets have been placed on large-scale technologies, which often have a high destructive potential.

epd: What India must do itself?

Bosse-Huber: Our Indian partners repeatedly cite bureaucracy and corruption as major problems that prevent many a good approach from succeeding. Here, the well-being of the people must once again come first. In many cases, for example, the land rights of the population exist only on paper and are difficult to enforce before the authorities. Our Indian project partners must always help those affected to assert their rights and, if necessary, to sue for them.

epd: To what extent can climate-friendly technologies help??

Bosse-Huber: They are important, but must go hand in hand with a change in awareness. We cannot help women farmers in India to cook with low-emission stoves and at the same time waste more and more energy in industry and private households in Germany. Greenhouse gas emissions can only be reduced if we are energy-conscious in both the rich north and the poor south of the world.


We can only put a stop to climate change by working together. The promotion of projects in developing countries to compensate for their own CO2 emissions must not be seen by industrial groups and consumers in the northern hemisphere as a way of buying their way out of their own responsibility.


epd: Should there also be fixed targets for developing and emerging countries to reduce CO2 emissions?

Bosse-Huber: These countries also have the right to develop economically and cannot be obliged to foot the bill for environmental sins for which we are responsible. On the other hand, the environmental mistakes of the industrialized countries must not be repeated in the emerging countries either. I therefore hope for binding agreements that apply to ourselves and to the global community. But this can only be achieved if those with economic and political responsibility in India, Brazil and China, for example, understand the importance of energy efficiency. To a limited extent, prere from the EU can also help.

epd: Is the EU itself doing enough to stop climate change??

Bosse-Huber: It is at least taking the first steps in the right direction. However, I am concerned about the way in which climate policy goals were put on the back burner during the recent economic and financial crisis, and the focus was almost exclusively on questions of endangered economic growth. As a small economic giant, the EU could do much more and take on a real pioneering role – for example, by increasing its target for CO2 reduction from 20 to 30 percent by 2020.

epd: If necessary, would it make sense for Germany to go it alone in reducing greenhouse gases??

Bosse-Huber: Going it alone would be the wrong approach – the European economic area can only move together. But Germany, as the economic power in Europe, can stand up more decisively for ambitious climate targets and press its EU partners more strongly for such a climate-conscious approach. In this debate, it has become strangely quiet lately.

epd: What can the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland contribute – and what impetus can the experience in India provide??

Bosse-Huber: It has become clear to me that we need to take the question of the church's contribution to climate protection with even greater seriousness. The Rhenish church has been focusing on this ie for years – for example, with regard to fair trade or ecological building – and has joined the Climate Platform. But we must understand climate protection even more as a cross-cutting ie that must be consistently in view in all decisions. The awareness of this in the church leadership has in any case been immensely increased by the visit of people who are concretely affected by the consequences of global warming.

epd: Germany is currently debating ethanol in gasoline. What is your opinion of the cultivation of agricultural products for biofuel??

Bosse-Huber: In view of the rise in grain prices on the world market as a result of cultivation for bioenergy, I think it would be irresponsible to continue along this path. Here, once again, an attempt is being made to solve an ecological problem on the backs of poor countries. The production of bioenergy has been the subject of controversial debate in our church for years, and has come in for increasingly critical appraisal. You can't weigh gasoline for the world against bread for the world – here the church vote must be clearly in favor of food production.


Interview: Ingo Lehnick

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