Biofuels ‘detrimental to environment’ say MPs

Government and the European Union should not have pursued targets to increase the use of first generation biofuels, a committee of MPs has said.

A report by the Environmental Audit Committee raised concerns about the absence of strict sustainability standards and mechanisms to prevent destruction of land such as rainforests to grow the crops that make biofuels.

MPs called for a moratorium on targets for the use of biofuels and for Government to concentrate on sustainable biofuels such as waste vegetable oil and the development of more efficient second-generation biofuel technologies, echoing comments from Defra’s chief scientific advisor, Professor Robert Watson, earlier this month.

Are Biofuels Sustainable?, published on Monday, concluded that biofuels are an expensive and ineffective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions when compared to other policies.

Committee chairman Tim Yeo said: “Biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road transport, but at present most biofuels have a detrimental impact on the environment overall.

“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.”

Following publication of the report, EU chiefs reiterated their commitment to biofuels targets, arguing that they are the only alternative to oil until other technologies such as hydrogen become competitive.

Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said: “The Commission strongly disagrees with the conclusion of the…report, where it says that the overall environmental effect of existing biofuel policy is negative.

“On the contrary, it is delivering significant greenhouse gas reductions, compared with its alternative, oil.”

He added that the EU Commission shared the committee’s concerns that biofuels have to be sustainable, and said the new directive for the promotion of renewable energy sources aimed to ensure this.

UK trade association the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) said it supported the committee’s call for tough environmental and sustainability standards, but stressed the potential of biofuels to cut carbon emissions.

EIC director Merlin Hyman said: “Biofuels are one of the few commercially available technologies able to produce significant carbon emissions savings from the transport sector, and should be used as part of a range of solutions, not a silver bullet.”

Kate Martin

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie