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UNICA @Rio+20, be ready to commit!

By Géraldine Kutas posted Jun 19, 2012
The day we have all been waiting for has come. Over the last few months, governments have been working on a document that needs signatures of more than 130 international leaders coming to Rio from all over the world. Keeping in line with the level of ambition associated with the summit the paper is called “The Future We Want”. It is meant to commit its signatories to do their best to put the world on a more sustainable development path and ultimately a green economy.

The day we have all been waiting for has come.  

Over the last few months, governments have been working on a document that needs signatures of more than 130 international leaders coming to Rio from all over the world.

Keeping in line with the level of ambition associated with the summit the paper is called “The Future We Want”. It is meant to commit its signatories to do their best to put the world on a more sustainable development path and ultimately a green economy.

But just how much agreement governments reach should not be the only measure of success for Rio+20. At Rio, private sector and NGOs will be working in partnership across platforms to chart a path towards a more sustainable use of resources. Our commitment to each other is just as real and as binding. I’m excited that UNICA will be part of this historic moment, and we hope that what’ve learnt is a good blueprint for others.

I have previously talked on this blog about the future that UNICA wants and the urgency to take action and act responsibly.

In a world of rising energy demand, decreasing traditional energy supplies and a rapidly growing population, renewable energies are essential. And because the Brazilian experience shows that they can be an engine for economic growth there is even more good reason to hear us out. Times are tough for everyone, but if you can open up market opportunities, grow GDP and satisfy consumer demand for clean fuels, there is a solid business case. 

We’ve been preparing for Rio+20 for some time now because we see an opportunity, economic as much as environmental. We have also been actively telling our story,  and with great authority, through the "Dialogues for Sustainable Development", a UN platform for civil society participation in official discussions that has given an outstanding support to all our energy proposals. And for those of you here in Rio or those who’ll be following us from far, we plan to continue showing our commitment to a green economy and engaging with our stakeholders at a number of events this week:

On June 18th, UNICA talked about the potential of sustainable bio-energy at an event organised by the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP).

On June 19th, UNICA will give a speech at the ICTSD Trade and Sustainable Development Symposium called “Enabling Climate Mitigation, Fostering Low-Carbon Growth”.

On June 20th, UNICA will take part in the World Green Summit.

On the 21st, we will venture into the Bioeconomy debate alongside Novozymes and Electrobras.

And we will round off our busy Rio schedule on June 22nd with a presentation on the opportunities and challenges for bioenergy in Brazil at a conference organised by the CNA.

Sound busy? It’s not all.

A few days ago, we unveiled our latest contribution to understanding the potential of Brazilian sugarcane. We have launched an interactive digital tool that tells the story of our industry, provides timely information about market developments, and gives an overview of prospects and future uses of sugarcane ethanol. And it’s good fun to use it.  You can also download the app on your mobile devices and connect to our facebook page.

As you all see, much of the action in Rio+20 will not just take place at the negotiating table. We invite you to follow the debate and take part in the conversation.

We hope that this conference will mark the beginning of the future we all want.  

What’s possible when people have choice?

By Géraldine Kutas posted Jan 26, 2012
A lot. And the Americans will be the first to tell us. After more than three decades, the U.S. government lifted its tariff on ethanol giving the American public greater access to and an increase in environmental benefits starting in 2012. This is clearly a significant step forward, but I can’t help but think that we are missing out here in Europe?

A lot. And the Americans will be the first to tell us.

After more than three decades, the U.S. government lifted its tariff on ethanol giving the American public greater access to and an increase in environmental benefits starting in 2012. This is clearly a significant step forward, but I can’t help but think that we are missing out here in Europe?

Europe has set an ambitious environmental target in its 2020 energy legislation yet it simultaneously discriminates against a commercially viable renewable fuel that enables us to reach those same targets. Does anyone else see this paradox?

I know – and EU decision makers know too - that sugarcane ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent on average compared to ordinary fossil fuels, making it the best carbon performing biofuel produced today on a commercial scale. Since free trade is, in fact, a two way street, I should highlight that in 2010, Brazil eliminated its ethanol import tariff, undeniably increasing Brazil’s energy security. Today, Brazil hopes to encourage other countries around the world to do the same and develop free markets for clean, renewable fuels such as ethanol. I commend the United States for finally letting their import tariff expire – now I urge European citizens to make note of what European legislators owe them. To be fair, Europe isn’t alone. Big economies like China and Japan also impose an import tariff on ethanol.

Trade barriers can deprive Europeans of access to the many benefits of sugarcane ethanol. We wholeheartedly support and guarantee sustainability in the Brazilian ethanol production. Since the approval of the Bonsucro sustainability standards by the EU in July 2011, 12 mills were successfully certified within 6 months under that scheme. That’s commitment. But EU’s sustainability criteria, can act as non-tariff barriers, and their potential to limit trade in biofuels is significant.

So, what I think European consumers are missing here is choice. The choice to:

…increase relative independence on fossil fuels

…choose to power cars with a clean and renewable fuel

…cope better with high fuel prices

And ultimately to play an important role in meeting ambitious environmental targets decision makers have promised them.

It is urgent to act.

I know this won’t happen overnight, import tariffs create distortions and distortions take time to correct. But my hope for this year is that we start questioning their true merit!

We have a busy year ahead, let’s get to work and you’ll hear from me again in the coming months.

Are EU sustainability criteria for biofuels compatible with WTO rules?

By Géraldine Kutas posted Dec 12, 2011
That’s the question many of us are grappling with today. With the aim of meeting environmental goals, the European Commission is now due to finalize the very last provisions of the sustainability criteria it established two years ago in both the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and Fuel Quality Directive. The criteria were created as a mechanism to ensure that biofuels marketed in the European Union (EU) truly help in mitigating climate change and preserving biodiversity.

That’s the question many of us are grappling with today.

With the aim of meeting environmental goals, the European Commission is now due to finalize the very last provisions of the sustainability criteria it established two years ago in both the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and Fuel Quality Directive. The criteria were created as a mechanism to ensure that biofuels marketed in the European Union (EU) truly help in mitigating climate change and preserving biodiversity.

But recent decisions taken by the dispute settlement body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) – US — Clove Cigarettes, US — Tuna II (Mexico) and US –– COOL – could jeopardize the viability of the criteria, resulting in significant consequences for trading biofuels.

Are sustainability criteria for biofuels “discriminatory” or “unrelated to product characteristics”? This issue has been widely discussed among stakeholders, including policymakers, scientists, NGOs and academics, all with competing views.

Given the importance of sustainability criteria for the EU biofuels market, we recently co-organized a workshop with the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) to provide a platform for experts in Brussels to discuss the legal and technical arguments around the (in)compatibility of EU sustainability criteria. That way, we could gather opinions from all sides for a constructive dialogue in light of the recent WTO jurisprudence dealing with the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

The two remaining provisions I mentioned earlier that are under consideration by the European Commission are highly contentious. Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) is one of the most prominent examples of where incompatibility could occur since science is currently too flawed to attribute a specific ILUC impact to specific biofuels feedstock. Another example is “highly biodiverse grassland”, which clearly targets specific regions of the world. Andrew Shoyer, chairman of Sidley Austin LLP’s international trade and dispute resolution practice, advises that land-use criteria on biodiversity and any ILUC factor would be “particularly vulnerable”. And furthermore, specifically regarding ILUC, a recent EU-commissioned study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) concluded that many uncertainties remain surrounding the calculation of ILUC. It especially emphasized that such model cannot differentiate between direct and indirect land use emissions due to a lack of empirical evidence.

Another reason that EU sustainability standards might not be compatible with WTO rules is if they effectively discriminate between domestic and imported products based on individual production methods. Even though EU directives don’t contain a legal restriction on the imports of biofuels, in practice they can affect its marketability resulting in de facto discrimination. That means Brazilian biofuels – despite their proven outstanding environmental benefits – potentially could be limited in accessing the European market – a market which developed these rules explicitly to benefit from GHG-reducing fuels. There is a hint of paradox here.

What I know for sure is that we have more questions than answers on the table. In fact, this was also the outcome of our event. Let’s not rush into this. With all the uncertainty still to be clarified, I hope EU policymakers will take the time to carefully analyze cases affected by the TBT and the GATT agreements. The consequences could be detrimental for biofuels and many other renewable energy sources if they get this wrong. At UNICA we welcome all efforts to address climate change, and are convinced that a thoughtful decision that meets environmental objectives and is compatible with the WTO can be reached.

EU-Brazil Week: Only Baby Steps on Renewable Energy & Trade

By Géraldine Kutas posted Oct 10, 2011
Last week, at the annual EU-Brazil Summit, the EU and Brazil have been discussing how to jointly tackle our global challenges – chief among them trade, climate change and economic growth. For the last four summits, leaders have pledged their unwavering commitment to work together. But were there actual results?

Last week, at the annual EU-Brazil Summit, the EU and Brazil have been discussing how to jointly tackle our global challenges – chief among them trade, climate change and economic growth. For the last four summits, leaders have pledged their unwavering commitment to work together. But were there actual results? 

Yes, we are happy to see some progress was made, but surely we can and must do much more. It’s time to be bold and make decisions that will make a significant difference. I was encouraged to hear the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy say “we are able and willing to do more.”

Now these words need to be followed by actions.

For instance, what was accomplished in terms of pressing issues that were on the agenda, especially trade and renewable energy?

Let me start with renewable energy. The EU and Brazil noted the importance of stable and transparent energy markets and the need for continuous efforts to improve energy access and sustainability, which are crucial elements for global economic growth. The Letter of Intent signed last week between the European Commission and the Federative Republic of Brazil is a first step in that direction. It aims at strengthening the scientific cooperation between both parties in climate change, energy and sustainable management of natural resources, among other issues. I think this is a promising start but now we need to take these talks to the next level.

By 2050, global energy demand is expected to double. The business community gathered at the 2011 EU-Brazil Business Summit fully agreed that biofuels are the only powerful resource available at a commercial scale to efficiently and economically decrease greenhouse gas levels in the transport sector. However, we need a clear policy framework that will enable increased, yet sustainable production. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, which is produced in a sustainable way with no subsidies, is the best performing biofuel thanks to its environmental benefits. Yet its access to the European market is heavily restricted. This brings me to my next point: trade.

Brazil is the sixth largest investor in the EU but existing trade restrictions and unjustifiably high tariffs still limit the access of Brazilian products into the European market. Brazil already eliminated its tariff on ethanol. Now it’s time for Europe to do the same and offer its people a chance to choose a clean and sustainable fuel, at a competitive price.

If biofuels are indeed a powerful and sustainable alternative that can help Europe decrease transport emissions, we need to open up markets so we can share our expertise and goods, while at the same time helping Europe reach its targets.

So, we truly hope the new Joint Action Plan for the period 2012-2014 will provide us with a genuine level playing field and reduce suspicion on both sides. This will have an impact across many sectors and it will ultimately benefit us all. Not only do we hope it will boost innovation, enhance employment, stimulate economic growth, but a successful agreement can also create economic synergies and reduce costs of raw material for both parties, besides achieving an environmentally friendlier planet.

We’re on the right track, but baby steps won’t get us there fast enough. Let’s move beyond constructive talks and leapfrog into a sustainable and prosperous future for both Europe and Brazil.

“Brazil Week” Spotlights EU-Brazil Relations

By Géraldine Kutas posted Oct 02, 2011
For five years now, European and Brazilian policy makers and officials convene to exchange views on big ticket issues for Brazil and the EU. This week they will meet in Brussels – what better place if you want to advance some critical issues between major trading blocs. The Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and business leaders plan to discuss ways to tackle common global challenges and work on strengthening ties between the EU and Brazil. Renewable energy is important to Brazil so we can safely assume it will feature on the agenda. As most involved parties, we too recognize that there is a lot to gain from a dynamic strategic partnership. Climate change, competitiveness, innovation and trade are global challenges, and they require global solutions. But most of all they require a genuine level playing field.

For five years now, European and Brazilian policymakers and officials convene to exchange views on big ticket issues for Brazil and the EU. This week they will meet in Brussels – what better place if you want to advance some critical issues between major trading blocs. The Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and business leaders plan to discuss ways to tackle common global challenges and work on strengthening ties between the EU and Brazil. Renewable energy is important to Brazil so we can safely assume it will feature on the agenda. As most involved parties, we too recognize that there is a lot to gain from a dynamic strategic partnership. Climate change, competitiveness, innovation and trade are global challenges, and they require global solutions. But most of all they require a genuine level playing field.

As you would expect, that brings me to the EU-Mercosur negotiations. Needless to say, they will drive a good deal of conversation this week. And for a number of good reasons. For one, the EU is Brazil’s leading trading partner. And the EU has repeatedly noted that Brazil is the most important market in Latin America. But existing trade restrictions and unjustifiably high tariffs limit the access of Brazilian products into the European market. Brazil has already eliminated its tariff on ethanol, but at this moment in time, Europe heavily taxes clean and renewable Brazilian sugarcane ethanol. How will this policy help Europe achieve a sustainable future? It most likely won’t. It doesn’t make much sense either because access to these goods will save Europeans money, advance competitiveness, drive innovation and protect the environment – the very challenges those leaders plan to resolve. I also believe that free trade stands to benefit us all. Brazil and the EU get to create one of the world’s largest bilateral free-trade zones. This is a hugely promising prospect. It’s also a lofty claim, so allow me to explain.

It really means that man on the street gets more choices! For us at UNICA, this means clean and renewable energy in the hands of European consumers and a competitive market that brings down the price of fuels that protect the environment. I’d argue that it will get us all closer to some tangible results as far as policy commitments are concerned.

I’m both proud and excited that UNICA can have a share of voice in this important debate. Our industry has been a critical component of what’s made Brazil a truly unique renewable energy pioneer over the past three decades. And we want to share our experiences with everyone who has an interest in smart, sustainable energy policy. Our goal is to partner with other countries to promote renewable energy on a global level. On October 3rd, we’re organizing a reception “Biofuels done well – Sugarcane leading the way to clean energy”, which will highlight what we believe can help Europe achieve a sustainable future. It’s hosted by MEP Britta Thomsen at the European Parliament in Brussels and will be attended by a number of Brazilian government officials. And that's not all we've got planned for “Brazil Week”. Our Chief Representative in the EU Lola Uña Cárdenas will participate in a panel at the European Commission on October 5th, to speak about EU-Brazil cooperation efforts as they relate to agribusiness.

Brazil has an increasingly important role on the global stage – be it for energy, food or developing a strong and functioning bioeconomy. We hope policy leaders and businesses alike will take advantage of “Brazil Week” and put forward workable solutions to our mutual challenges. After all, a fruitful relationship between the EU and Brazil is good for everyone. Stay tuned for our take on this week’s discussions.

Our Authors

 

Géraldine Kutas, Head of International Affairs & Senior International Adviser to the President of UNICA Géraldine Kutas
Head of International Affairs & Senior International Adviser to the President

 

Leticia Phillips, Representative-North AmericaLeticia Phillips
Representative, North America

 

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