Experts attending a United Nations conference on bio-fuels say alternative sources of energy could counter the rising price of fossil fuels, which is especially burdensome for developing nations. However, they caution that planting crops for energy use could use up scarce land and resources needed for food, as Lisa Schlein in Geneva reports for VOA.
The steep rise in oil prices has created winners and losers. Those who produce oil have been reaping windfall profits. Those who import oil have had a tougher time paying their bills, especially developing countries.
Uganda's ambassador to the U.N. offices in Geneva, Arsene Balihuta, says the development of bio-fuels has many advantages. He says they may lead to lower oil prices, to better energy security and diversification of energy sources.
"Their development may lead to the contribution of the development of rural areas, especially in the Least Developed Countries," he noted. "What was interesting in one of the presentations was that bio-fuels are likely to be produced in the equatorial belt of the world, where most of the bio-mass can sustainably grow. And most of the Least Developed Countries are actually found in this belt."
The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, which sponsored the three-day meeting, reports world production of ethanol from sugar cane, maize and sugar beet doubled to 40 billion liters in five years. This represents the equivalent of around three percent of global use of gasoline. Some analysts estimate bio-fuels could make up 20 percent of fuels consumed worldwide by 2020.
Zambian Minister of Energy Felix Mutati says high fuel prices keep people impoverished, despite debt forgiveness and increases in international development assistance.
"Whereas, we have had debt relief; whereas we have had an increase in the volume of aid, this has been eroded because of the increasing price of importation of fuel. In the particular case of Zambia, the annual debt relief is in the order of $150 million. The impact of the increases in price are greater than $150 million.
But, there are downsides to producing bio-fuels. For example, UNCTAD says, the use of land for energy crops may be done at the expense of food crops. It also may be using scarce water resources. It says growing energy crops could reduce bio-diversity. Thus the overall environmental costs of bio-fuels have to be weighed against the environmental advantages.