Erika . 0706291243 . Jurusan Ilmu Hubungan Internasional . Fakultas Ilmu Sosial dan Ilmu Politik .

Universitas Indonesia

Final Term Essay—English for International Relations Name : Erika NPM : 0706291243

The Biofuel Invention, a Way to Create Sustainable Development?

During the past century, the human populations, infrastructures and transportations have grown rapidly. This massive growth creates a dependence on the sources of fuels, to deliver transportation of goods and services, for generations of electricity, for industrial activity, and for other purposes. The human growth as well as its massive consumption ultimately cause declining availability and increasing price of fuels and energy.1 Experts suggest that current oil and gas reserves would suffice to last only a few more decades 2, while scientists also predict, if energy consumption remains high without any inventions, the minerals will run out between 2050-2100. Hence, there has been widespread recent interest in learning more about how to obtain liquid fuels from non-fossil sources. The combination of rising oil prices, issues of security, climate instability, pollution, and deepening poverty in rural and agricultural areas, is propelling governments to enact powerful incentives for the use of these non-fossil fuels.3 The search for a biological base to alternative fuels is then become a wide-ranging issues. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy provided $375 million over five years to establish bio-energy research centers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Efforts at these centers will be focused on devising biological processes to convert cellulose to liquid fuel.4 This invention of biofuels to replace oil as main source of energy has created many contradictions. For the pro side, biofuels are deemed to be another way to create a sustainable development. Whilst for the contra side, the invention of biofuels is deemed to be the cause

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Edwin Kessler. “Our Food and Fuel Future”, in David Pimentel (ed.), Biofuels, Solar, and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems. (Springer Science and Business Media, 2008), p.259. Ayhan Demirbas. Biofuels, Securing the Planet’s Future Energy Needs. (London: Springer, 2009). Ibid. Kessler, op.cit., p.274.
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Erika . 0706291243 . Jurusan Ilmu Hubungan Internasional . Fakultas Ilmu Sosial dan Ilmu Politik . Universitas Indonesia

of the soaring food prices lately, that leads to the poverty, which I will explain later in this essay. But first of all, let me give you a hint on the definition of sustainable development itself, and why the invention of biofuel is deemed to be the way to create a sustainable development. The term „sustainable development‟ first entered the public arena in 1980, when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources presented the World Conservation Strategy, aimed at achieving sustainable development through the conservation of living resources.5 However, the World Conservation Strategy was limited in the sense that its prime focus was only on ecological sustainability. A broader frame of understanding the sustainable development was used by the United Nations Environment Programme, which is also known as the Brundtland Report, which defined the sustainable development as „development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs‟.6 This report argued that the sustainable development concept is nonetheless the unity of environmental protection and economic development. The environmental quality and economic development, therefore, have come to be seen as inter-reliant and mutually reinforcing. The Brundtland Report also linked the achievement of sustainable development with a number of major political and social changes: elimination of poverty and exploitation, equal distribution of global resources, an end to the current pattern of military expenditure, new methods of ensuring just population control, lifestyle changes, appropriate technology, and institutional changes including democratization, achieved through effective citizen participation in decision-making.7 Based on above definitions of sustainable development, the invention of biofuels appears to be a potential alternative energy substitute for fossil fuels, an invention that could give a contribution to sustainable development and globally environmental preservation since it is renewable, available throughout the world, and carbon neutral.8 The term biofuel itself is referred to solid, liquid, or gaseous fuels that are produced from bio-renewable or combustible renewable materials. Liquid biofuels are deemed to be very important for the

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Susan Baker, et.all. “Introduction”, in Susan Baker, et.all. (eds.), The Politics of Sustainable Development; Theory, Policy, and Practice within the European Union. (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 2. Ibid, p.3. Ibid. Demirbas, op.cit., p. v.
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Erika . 0706291243 . Jurusan Ilmu Hubungan Internasional . Fakultas Ilmu Sosial dan Ilmu Politik . Universitas Indonesia

future generations because they could replace petroleum fuels. Biofuels are also generally considered as offering many priorities, including sustainability, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, regional development, social structure and agriculture, as well as security of supply.9 Experts say the biggest difference between biofuels and petroleum lies on their oxygen content. Biofuels are deemed to be non-polluting, locally available, accessible, and more sustainable. The first generation of biofuels refers to biofuels made from sugar, starch, vegetable oils, or animal fats using conventional technology. Second generation biofuels are made from non-food crops, wheat straw, corn, wood, and energy crop using advanced technology. 10 Ethanol—an alcohol and is fermented from sugars, starches, or cellulosic biomass—is the most widely used material to produce biofuel. Most commercial production of ethanol is from sugar cane or sugar beet, as starches and cellulosic biomass usually require expensive pretreatment11. The advantages of using biofuels are the following: (a) they are easily available from common biomass sources; (b) they represent a carbon dioxide-cycle in combustion, (c) they have a considerable environmentally friendly potential; (d) they have many benefits for the environment, economy, and consumers; and (e) they are biodegradable and contribute to sustainability.12 Despite all the benefit of using biofuels as an alternative energy sources, the invention of biofuels is also deemed to have many negative impacts, mainly related to its effect on soaring food prices. The use of biofuel globally might give problem to the food supply because to produce biofuels, we must first produce ethanol itself, and this ethanol comes from basic staple crops, like corn, wheat, and other sugar crops. The push to produce biofuels as an alternative to hydrocarbons is further straining food supplies, especially in the U.S., where generous subsidies for ethanol—given by the U.S. government as incentives for farmers to grow crops for biofuels production—have lured thousands of farmers away from growing crops for food. This condition also happened in many countries, where farmers are asked to grow crops for biofuels production, not for food production. This converting of large

Ibid, p. 87. Ibid, p.88. 11 Ibid, p.89. 12 Ibid.

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Erika . 0706291243 . Jurusan Ilmu Hubungan Internasional . Fakultas Ilmu Sosial dan Ilmu Politik . Universitas Indonesia

amounts of land to grow crops for biofuels has reduced the food production, just when the world needs to increase it. The implication is clear; the supply of food production is decreased, while the demand remains high. That leads to the soaring food prices all over the world. Expert points out that global food prices have risen by 75% since 2000, while wheat prices have increased by 200%. The costs of other staples such as rice and soya bean have also hit record highs, while corn is at its most expensive in 12 years. 13 The world's grain stocks are at their lowest for 30 years. The increasing cost of wheat is also pushing up the price of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. And there is a likelihood prices will continue their persistent rise, according to expert predictions by the UN and developed countries. Major criticism against biofuels also points to the high ethanol inputs required for production. Experts say, the large amount of cellulose is required to replace just a few percent of current U.S. oil consumption.14 To make matters worse, global stockpiles of some basics have shrink to their lowest point in decades. Rice—a staple for billions of Asians—has soared to its highest price in 20 years, while supplies are at their lowest level since the early 1980s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.15 Meanwhile, the global supply of wheat is lower than it has been in about 50 years — just five weeks' worth of world consumption is on hand, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization.16 The issue of food security arises, alongside the energy security and even the national security. The food versus fuel debate is also evolved; people begin to ask the use of crops for fuel instead of feeding the global poor. During 2007 alone, around 50 million more have been added to the rank of the world's hungry due to rising prices, thus pushing the number of unfed to about 900 millions.17 This escalating food prices have sparked protests, and even riots. Riots and protests over food















14 15

s.php, 07 December, 06.52 AM. Kessler, loc.cit., p.279. TIME. The World’s Growing Food Price Crisis, accessed from 0,8599,1717572,00.html, 07 December 2008, 07.00 AM. Ibid. Shobha Shukla. World Food Scarcity and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bio Energy, accessed from, 11 December 2008, 09.40 PM.
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Erika . 0706291243 . Jurusan Ilmu Hubungan Internasional . Fakultas Ilmu Sosial dan Ilmu Politik . Universitas Indonesia

prices have broken out in 30 countries since 2007. Haiti‟s prime minister was tossed out of his office in April 2008, largely because of protests over the price of food, and the Malaysian government is looking none too stable for similar reasons. In South Africa, discontent over soaring food prices provided the spark of violence that killed dozens of immigrants. Even in the United States, wholesalers such as Costco limited the amount of rice each person could buy, unsettling some consumers.18 The creation of politically popular biofuel mandates by many of the world‟s biggest framing nations has been particularly troublesome. U.S. law, for instance, requires that ethanol make up at least 5 percent of vehicle fuel (rising to 22 percent by 2022), and 30 percent of U.S. corn went toward ethanol production last year. 19 This policy has been criticized all over the world. To respond those critics, the U.S. government has claimed that biofuel demand is responsible for only 3 percent of the increase of global food prices over the past year. But a recent World Bank report estimated that figure to be 75 percent once the resulting of economic change, such as the shift in land use, are considered.20 Resources are there to end hunger, but they are exploited by a miniscule few to the detriment of others21. So, what are the best solutions to tackle this biofuel dilemma, given the fact that biofuel is (so far) the most potential alternative energy to replace oil? Ralph Simms of the International Energy Agency in his recent post tries to answer this question. He calls for a renewed perspective on biofuel production. He believes that we must look at the overall context in which biofuel production takes place to understand current developments, rather than accusing biofuels exclusively. Simms writes, "It is true that the increased production of biofuels has distorted some commodity prices and therefore contributed to recent price increases in grains and vegetable oils. However other factors, such as recent droughts, low food stocks and surging demand for meat and milk products in Asia, have probably played a far greater role. The higher world energy prices have also pushed up the costs of food-crop


Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne. The Great Disruption, accessed from

food-scarcity, 11 December 2008, 08.08 PM. Ibid. 20 Ibid. 21 Shobha Shukla, op.cit.

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Erika . 0706291243 . Jurusan Ilmu Hubungan Internasional . Fakultas Ilmu Sosial dan Ilmu Politik . Universitas Indonesia

production (including fertilizers), processing, and distribution."22 Simms believes that we need a re-evaluation of the field in order to facilitate sustainable production. He admits that there are cases of "bad" biofuel production that increase food prices all over the world. However, there are also instances of "good" biofuel production that increase environmental integrity and support energy security. Simms then suggests creating an international standard for biofuel production that emphasizes "trade, equity, sustainable development and energy security" as well as giving more incentives for second-generation production of ethanol and synthetic diesel and third-generation production from algae using advanced biotechnologies23, so that we do not have to rely only on staple food crops to produce biofuels. To sum up, the biofuel inventions are rarely unproblematic. While it is easy for us to become excited and proclaim the advent of a new energy source as the key to current ecological problems, the reality is that there are usually unforeseen damages that emerge as the technology develops and becomes adopted on a global scale. To produce biofuels in mass quantities may not be the most prudent option, unless second and third generation of biofuels advances in a timely manner. Therefore, it is important to re-evaluate those biofuel policies to redirect biofuel production in the most beneficial and the most sustainable way possible.


Shannon Arvizu. Sustainable Development: Oxymoron or Reality?, accessed from, 21 Mei 2009, 04.01 PM. Ibid.
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