Jaboticabal, Brazil (AFP) Nov 11, 2007
Brazil is a "quiet green giant" leading the fight against climate change, but its pioneering use of biofuels should be studied carefully before being emulated, UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said Sunday.
The UN secretary general, in a speech at factory producing ethanol from sugarcane in southeast Brazil, praised the South American nation's eco-initiatives, but stopped short of fully endorsing its policy of converting of food crops into fuel.
"Clearly biofuels have the potential for good -- and perhaps also for harm," he told reporters and Brazilian dignitaries.
The comment was a nod to a recent warning by one of his top envoys that the rush to biofuels as oil prices sit near record highs was a "disaster."
The envoy, UN special rapporteur on the Right to Food Jean Ziegler, also last month called the use of arable land for biofuel production "a crime against humanity" that threatened food supplies, wildlife and forests.
Ban, who had flown into Brazil from Antarctica and Chile, said he had seen "alarming signs of climate change."
He said one of his main priorities as secretary general was to forge an international consensus to fight global warming ahead of a Bali summit in December on the issue that is aimed at drafting a text to succeed the Kyoto treaty.
He praised efforts by countries to tackle global warming, and said the world has not fully appreciated how far Brazil, in particular, has gone to meeting the challenge.
"She leads the world in renewable energy" and has "useful lessons for all of us," he said in his speech at the Santa Adelia factory in Jaboticabal.
His view of ethanol production was generally positive, despite his acknowledgement of Ziegler's reservations.
"This is clearly one of the very good examples in technology areas in helping in advancing climate change issues," he said of what he had seen at the factory.
But, he added: "We have to experiment to see what works and what doesn't."
Brazil has been developing ethanol as a fuel substitute -- and now a fuel additive -- since the oil crises of the 1970s and is now the top exporter of the biomass alcohol and the second-biggest producer after the United States.
Nine out of 10 cars sold in Brazil are now what is known as Flex-Fuel vehicles, meaning their engines can use petrol, ethanol or a mix of the two.
Ethanol, which in Brazil is cheaper than petrol, runs cleaner and with more power than its fossil fuel counterpart, though it gives less mileage.
Ban, accompanied by his wife and UN staff, toured a field of sugarcane, the modern factory where the plant was transformed into ethanol, and a storage center.
The Brazilian showing him around, Marcos Jank of the national Sugarcane Industry Union, was proud of the operation.
"Brazil had the vision and good fortune to surge ahead of the rest of the world with efficient and clean biofuel production and use," he said in a welcome speech.
He called on Ban to "deliver a strong, clear and accurate message about biofuels to the world," and presented him a letter in that sense backed by the US, Canadian and EU associations lobbying for biofuel use.
Jank expressed "concern" at Ziegler's comments.
"Our view is that Ziegler is not right... he's not fully informed," he told AFP.
Ban, taking questions from reporters, said he was confident the upcoming Bali summit would lay down the foundations for a post-Kyoto accord international approach on climate change.
He admitted that, right now, "the United States and some other major countries are staying outside the Kyoto framework."
But he said that world leaders have now recognized "the urgency of this issue and there is an agreement, a consensus agreement that while we appreciate the individual countries' measures and initiatives, all these issues should be integrated into a United Nations convention framework."
Ban was due to discuss these topics further with Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who was to greet him in the capital Brasilia on Monday.
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