This week, São Paulo is hosting the International Conference on Biofuels. Organized by the Brazilian government at the Hyatt Hotel, the event wants to encourage an international discussion on ethanol production and application worldwide. So far, the plenary session that called my particular attention was the Plenary Session III on “Biofuels and Sustainability” moderated by Marina Silva, the former Brazilian Minister of Environment. Some of the participants brought up a very provocative subject – the “Black Agenda”.
For Maria Foster, Director for Gas and Energy at Petrobras, the “Black Agenda” is an international lobby against international certification of Brazilian ethanol. In her opinion, this group is blocking worldwide commercialization of Brazilian ethanol because of oil companies’ concerns regarding the potential of ethanol on a global scale.
Why certification is important
Alicia Bárbacena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), highlighted the fact that it is very important to certify internationally all kind of products, services and commodities to guarantee their qualities and origination. Several standards testify for good practices, ethics and environmental friendly procedures of the production. Roberto Smeraldi, Director at Amigos da Terra (a Brazilian NGO), pointed out that ECLAC is trying to achieve a similar international standard to that of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Back to the Black Agenda. Talking to some of the participants after the panel, they were even more open about their concerns. Several of them believed in the existence of such a conspiracy to curb the promotion and commercialization of Brazilian ethanol as a new fuel option. Others felt Mrs. Foster attributes too much of the resistance to the oil lobby, and that critics are correct in highlighting food security, deforestation due to agricultural expansion and labor concerns associated with Brazilian ethanol.
Conspiracy theories fascinate us. However, is the real explanation behind the slow acceptance of Brazilian ethanol a justifiable ‘prejudice’ because of the social and environmental impact of ethanol production? If not which companies should be afraid of ethanol success – why would they not just acquire ethanol interests?