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Ambassador touts biofuel as climate change cure

Brazil's extensive use of sugar cane-based ethanol provides an 'immediate solution'

by Jun Hongo

Criticism that Brazil has prioritized the manufacture of biofuel at the expense of food production is preposterous and flies in the face of a superb solution for global warming, according to the Brazilian ambassador to Japan.

While the world’s biggest producer of sugar cane-based ethanol exported 3.532 billion liters in 2007, the conversion of crops has recently been accused of causing food prices to rise worldwide.

But Ambassador Andre Amado illustrated during an interview with The Japan Times last week that arable land used for sugar cane production is limited to 2 percent of Brazil’s total agricultural area, and that ultimately only half of the crop ends up in ethanol.

Ethanol production takes place “without expelling any other food production in Brazil,” Amado said, adding his country “should have the right to use (its) resources in a sustainable way.”

With intricate global issues expected to complicate the Group of Eight summit in Toyako, Hokkaido, next month, the input of emerging economies attending the expanded “outreach” meetings is likely to influence the outcome.

Brazil, one of the outreach participants, is ready to promote ethanol production as a solution for a variety of issues, and will propose differentiated responsibilities for developing countries during talks to create an international framework on global warming.

Amado, who has been stationed in Japan since 2005, said the climate change crisis is “undeniable” and Brazil intends to do its part in curbing the trend.

He said his country boasts one of the cleanest energy metrics in the world, with more than 46 percent of its needs satisfied with renewable sources such as biomass fuel and hydroelectric plants.

“This is an extraordinary contribution” to reducing worldwide carbon emissions, Amado stressed, adding that since the introduction of biofuel in the 1970s, Brazil has saved an estimated 700 million tons in carbon dioxide emissions.

In addition to its contribution to reducing global warming, sugar cane-based ethanol production provides jobs in poverty-stricken northeastern Brazil.

“The social and economical impact of sugar cane production has become quite clear,” Amado said, calling biomass fuel “the immediate solution” for the entire world.

Urging Japan to get involved in financing biomass ethanol production, the ambassador expressed hope that the world will shift from dependence on fossil fuels — which are produced in a mere 15 countries worldwide — to biomass ethanol, which can be manufactured in 120 countries.

Amado insisted that an international framework on climate change to follow the 1997 Kyoto Protocol must contain “a common commitment and consciousness” for all nations — and a “differentiated responsibility” for each country.

“The responsibilities of Japan should not be the same” as those of developing countries, he said, making the argument that binding all nations to a global benchmark would shackle the potential growth of poorer nations.

He said it would be unfair for developed countries to impose constraints on other countries’ economic progress, and while Japan is on the “right track” against global warming, its responsibilities cannot be transplanted to other countries.

Imposing reduction targets on developing countries would be like a sprinter way out in front of the field asking all his competitors to stop, Amado said.

Still, Japan must use its authority as host to lead the G8 summit to talk about climate change and guide the participating nations toward a consensus, he said.

“If China doesn’t belong to something, that doesn’t mean (the United States) shouldn’t belong to it, too,” Amado said in criticizing the U.S. for not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

On the bilateral situation, Japan and Brazil should nurture a relationship as partners instead of mere business acquaintances, Amado proposed.

Brazil opted to introduce a Japanese-style digital television broadcast system in 2006 and is considering giving Japanese companies a contract to develop a shinkansen line connecting major cities. Other countries, including France and Germany, are also in the running. The winner is scheduled to be announced later this year.

“We are not trying to sell and buy more with Japan, although that would be good,” Amado said.

“We can try to become partners and start joint ventures” such as producing sugar cane in Africa or bidding to create infrastructure in Africa and the Middle East, he said.