Brazil is the global leader in ethanol exports, providing 70% of the world's supply in 2006. While official accounts of the Brazilian government’s experiment with biofuels laud it as a global model for sustainable biomass production, it is increasingly being criticised and opposed by national social movements. To challenge the official rhetoric, this policy brief aims to bring critical voices to the forefront of the debate, explore their arguments, and raise awareness among US organisations, citizens, and public officials about what the authors assert is really happening in the “Biofuels Republic of Brazil.” The paper addresses the issue at the following three levels:

regional: focusing on a geopolitical analysis and implications of the Brazil-US ethanol alliance
global: examining the corporate strategy that has come to determine the main official discourse on agroenergy and how to tackle climate change
grassroots resistance: describing how grassroots groups are challenging the current framing of energy security issues, the paper presents their proposed agenda for energy security built upon food and energy sovereignty for “cooling down the earth”.

The paper concludes by reviewing the first National Popular Conference on Agroenergy, held in October 2007 in Curitiba, Brazil, where national grassroots constituencies raised their voices against the current biofuels trend. Points noted by the resulting declaration include:

 an agreement amongst delegates that agrofuels, promoted in a concerted effort by the government and both national and transnational corporate interests, are not a solution to the ecological crisis, as they further entrench the negative social and environmental consequences of industrial agriculture.
the participants agreed that any progressive “substitutes” to oil, especially agrofuels used for transportation, are acceptable only if accompanied by a radical transformation of current industrial patterns of production and consumption. And that this should be driven by governments, instead of corporations, so each country would find ways to achieve energy sovereignty - producing sustainable energy to meet its national needs, instead of the current situation where Southern countries have increased energy production for export markets.

The authors conclude by asserting that, while the terms of this declaration are in no way a recipe to ensure energy sovereignty, it does help to make it obvious to the world that the Brazilian social movements are critical of biofuels and are proposing alternatives to it.

Publication date
Type of publication
Cross-sectoral enabler
Governance and planning
CTCN Keyword Matches
Biomass transport
Biogas as fuel
Ethanol fuel
Mitigation in the pulp and paper industry
Industrial solid waste