Brazil's biofuels exports 'threatened' by Amazon sugarcane plans

The environmental credibility of Brazil’s biofuels industry and the carbon footprint of its ethanol producers is coming under increasing scrutiny as the country’s Senate considers whether to allow the growth of sugar cane in the Amazon.

Brazil's Senate President Eunicio de Oliveira on Friday postponed a vote on bill 626/2011 that has riled the sugar and ethanol industry and environmentalists alike for its potential to fuel deforestation by opening areas in the Amazon to sugarcane production.

No date has been set for a vote on the bill, which was previously supposed to be considered by the floor by Friday.

Oliveira said the Senate lacked a quorum to consider the bill.

If passed, the bill would roll back existing legislation passed nine years ago to buffer Brazilian sugar and ethanol producers from potential trade restrictions imposed by Europe and other regions on environmental grounds.

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) said: “Bill 626/2011 (the bill before the Senate) can tarnish its reputation and jeopardise the markets already conquered and the value of Brazilian products.”

UNICA said that sugarcane cultivation would be yet another driver of deforestation to the region, as livestock farming would be pushed into new areas to make way for biofuels crops.

Exports of Brazilian ethanol are expected to increase sharply if the EU concludes a trade deal with Latin American countries including Brazil, which EU producers warn could displace more domestically-produced ethanol that is largely based on wheat, corn and sugar beet feedstocks.

Under revised regulations that came into force in January, ethanol exports to the EU would need to demonstrate that they reduce emissions 60% compared with conventional fossil fuels.

This metric is likely to rule out future exports to the bloc from Amazonian regions should the Senate vote pave the way for expansion of the industry in rainforested regions.

Nonetheless, permission by Brazilian lawmakers could damage exports of biofuels to the EU and other markets at a time that the agribusiness superpower is readying a huge expansion in its biofuels industry through its RenovaBio programme, said former environment minister, Izabella Teixeira.

'Disgrace'

According to a report on the Euractiv website, Teixiera said the plan “shoots Brazilian biofuels policy in the foot, putting RenovaBio and Brazil’s commitments to the Paris Agreement at risk, adding: “Brazilian ethanol doesn’t need this. More than just another step backwards, it’s a disgrace”.

Four other former environment ministers in Brazil have expressed opposition to the plan.

EU meeting

Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy is currently holding public consultations on RenovaBio and senior officials in charge of Brazil's biofuels strategy will meet EU lawmakers next week to discuss the program.

Ministry officials will also meet with Brussels-based NGOs to listen to environmental concerns related to Brazil’s biofuels industry.  

The sugarcane lobby’s concerns have been echoed elsewhere, with around 60 NGOs including Greenpeace and WWF this week warning in a letter that the decision would be the “last straw” for the Amazonian rainforest and damage the country’s biofuels industry.

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