In Colombia, biofuel production is a mandate—a 2007 law called for a minimum blend of 10% ethanol (E10) and 5% biodiesel (B5), and the Transmilenio mass transit system in Bogotá has been running on mixtures of between B5 and B50 since then. Biofuels burn clean and are often seen as part of the solution to overreliance on fossil fuels and climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The Colombian government is also promoting palm plantations as a way to eradicate coca production while providing poor farmers with a lucrative alternative.
However, biofuels have a dark side. Though low-carbon on the tailpipe end, biofuels can actually be a large source of carbon emissions on the production end, if forests are cut down to make way for monoculture palm plantations. In Colombia, these palm plantations have not only displaced carbon, but also people—mostly Afro-Colombian and indigenous people. And with the government aiming to expand the land area used for export crops, including palm oil, to seven million hectares by 2020, these deforestation and land rights issues will only become more acute if not addressed soon.
How can biofuel policy in Colombia promote economic development and climate change mitigation without compromising the environment or human rights? The IEDP environment team has been trying to untangle this issue for the last two months, and on Friday, we’ll present some preliminary ideas to the class. Mike Dwyer, Director of Global Policy Analysis at the Foreign Agricultural Service of USDA, along with biofuel experts Renee Schwartz and Paul Trupo, will join us for an overview of U.S. interests in Colombian biofuel production.