UK Government Backs Away from First Generation Biofuels

Editor's Note: This is very good news. It's a long time coming, but good nonetheless. As Andy expresses, if only politicians could have worked with foresight -- instead of boldly forging ahead and wreaking havoc on the environment and lives of indigenous peoples -- all under a banner of saving the planet (read: make a profit). The tropical rainforests destroyed as a result of EU biofuels regulations cannot be replaced, and the infrastructure hastily put into place in countries like Indonesia and elsewhere -- as local industry heads sought to cash in on EU purchasing power -- will be unlikely to get dismantled. But, again, better late than never. Mr. Bush, are you listening?

BiofuelsI know I have written about biofuels already, but it is such an important environmental issue at the moment, I thought I would let you all know about the latest development in the UK. The UK House of Commons appointed Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has today released its first report of Session 2007-8 ‘Are Biofuels Sustainable?’ (PDF). The EAC is a cross-party committee of Members of Parliament (MPs) tasked with evaluating the impact of the policies and programmes of both government and public bodies on environmental protection and sustainable development. This report can influence the future policy of the UK, which can have a wider impact, by the UK influencing the policy of the European Union (EU).

The inquiry itself was initiated in July of 2007, with the remit of: examining the role of biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving fuel security; looking at the broader economic, social and environmental impacts of biofuels; determining if there are adequate safeguards in place to minimise any negative social (also) and environmental impacts of biofuels; and reviewing the policy arrangements for biofuels. The Summary from the report is below:

1. Biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road transport—but most first generation biofuels have a detrimental impact on the environment overall. In addition, most biofuels are often not an effective use of bioenergy resources, in terms either of cutting greenhouse gas emissions or value-for-money. The Government must ensure that its biofuels policy balances greenhouse gas emission cuts with wider environmental impacts, so that biofuels are only used where they contribute to sustainable emissions reductions.

2. The Government and EU’s neglect of biomass and other more effective policies to reduce emissions in favour of biofuels is misguided. The current policy and support framework must be changed to ensure that sustainable bioenergy resources maximise their potential to generate energy for the lowest possible greenhouse gas emissions. In general biofuels produced from conventional crops should no longer receive support from the Government. Instead the Government should concentrate on the development of more efficient biofuel technologies that might have a sustainable role in the future.

3. The EU Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, recently admitted that the Commission did not foresee all the problems that EU biofuels policy would cause. He indicated that certification would be used to address the negative impacts of biofuels. This is not good enough. The Government should seek to ensure that EU policy changes to reflect the concerns raised in this report. This means implementing a moratorium on current targets until technology improves, robust mechanisms to prevent damaging land use change are developed, and international sustainability standards are agreed. Only then might biofuels have a role to play. In the meantime, other more effective ways of cutting emissions from road transport should be pursued. It will take considerable courage for the Government and EU to admit that the current policy arrangements for biofuels are inappropriate. The policy realignments that are required will be a test of the Government’s commitment to moving the UK towards a sustainable low carbon economy.

The report makes fascinating reading, with a detailed analysis of the current state of biofuels production. With a wide-ranging remit, the EAC looked at the impact of UK and EU demand for biofuels on a global scale. The effect on greenhouse gas emissions was measured against the environmental, social and economic impact of the growing demand for biofuel crops. The conclusions and recommendations will make uncomfortable reading for those that believed biofuels were the answer to all our transport fuel needs. The report acknowledges that some biofuels, especially the ones used in the USA, produce more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. This is in addition to the deforestation, environmental damage, water shortages, higher food prices and possible food shortages that ineffectively regulated biofuel production is causing.

I hope a copy of this report finds its way to President Bush’s desk, the US policy on biofuels is as important, if not more important than that of the UK and the EU. Whether the UK and EU policy makers act on these recommendations is yet to be determined. At the very least, there is now a much greater level of awareness of the detrimental impact of the rapidly expanding first generation biofuels market. It seems to me that this kind of inquiry should have taken place before the widespread uptake of biofuels in the EU and the USA. I am concerned that with so much money and effort invested in biofuels by governments and industry, it will prove difficult to stop the biofuels locomotive from tearing up the environment and trashing the lives of many people in the developing world. Armed with this information, we, the voting public, have an opportunity to make our concerns about biofuels known to our political leaders. We can all take a stand for the environment.


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Thomas Agbor (anonymous)

Reference here is only made to palm and peatland in Indonisia, why not consider other plants or crops and other locations to reduce the CO2 emission as a result of the peatland used. we recommend regulations and not moratorium

Written in November 2009

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  • Posted on Jan. 23, 2008. Listed in:

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