Biofuels obligation begins amid controversy

Motorists will be filling their tanks with fuel containing a minimum level of biofuels after a new initiative came into force on Tuesday.

The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), requires 2.5% of all road fuels sold to come from biofuels, rising to 5% by 2010 in line with EU targets.

Government says the move is expected to save 2.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2010 but the move has provoked controversy as many have questioned the sustainability of biofuels.

The debate has already resulted in the launch of a review of the indirect economic and environmental impacts of growing crops to produce biofuels.

Speaking on Monday, Environment Minister Phil Woolas said: “Obviously sustainability needs to be at the heart of all biofuel production and it will remain at the forefront of all policy development in this area.”

Trade association the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) backed the RTFO, but warned that Government must move quickly to ensure high standards of sustainability.

“Graham Hilton, chair of the EIC’s Renewable Transport Fuels Working Group, said: “We, together with Government, must continue our efforts to ensure that we build an industry on the ground capable of delivering secure sustainable fuel to these high standards.”

The crew of green powerboat Earthrace – which will begin a round-the-world speed record attempt powered entirely by biodiesel later this month – were also among those welcoming the RTFO.

But Skipper Pete Bethune added: “Biofuel must not be accepted as a panacea for transport energy.

“It is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t take away the need to develop other renewable alternatives.”

Graham Wynne, chief executive of the RSPB, criticised the decision to push ahead with the introduction of the RTFO before the review had concluded.

He said: “Some biofuel production will cause habitat loss, displace food production and emit more greenhouse gases than are being saved.”

Other campaigners did not mince their words – with Greenpeace branding the iniative “reckless”.

Senior forests campaigner Belinda Fletcher said: “The Government claims its plans will promote the best biofuels, but in reality there is nothing to stop the use of crops like Indonesian palm oil being pumped into our fuel tanks.”

On Saturday, Slovenian protestors gathered outside an informal EU environment council meeting to urge ministers to reject a target of sourcing 10% of fuels from renewable sources by 2020.

Kate Martin

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