Calls to delay RTFO

Defra's chief scientific advisor has said Government should delay introducing a legal requirement for the use of biofuels on UK forecourts.

Professor Robert Watson said the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) Programme, which begins in April, should be postponed until ministers have completed a review of biofuels’ sustainability.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Watson said it would be “insane” if biofuels had the opposite effect to the one intended and suggested that policy might have “got ahead of the evidence”.

The RTFO programme, which will introduce 2.5% biofuels at the pumps from April 1 and boost this to 10% by 2010, is a Department of Transport policy and Defra was not consulted on its implementation.

Professor Watson said: “If asked, I would suggest that we would indeed wait for the review to be completed. That would actually make the most sense.”

He added: “The current policy potentially has drawbacks. There’s no question [about that].”

The biofuels review, announced in February by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, follows widespread international concern about the indirect environmental and social impacts of producing biofuels.

At the beginning of the year, Professor Watson told the Oxford Farming Conference that biofuels have caused deforestation, increased food prices and displaced small-scale farmers in some parts of the world.

On the same day as Professor Watson’s comments were aired on Radio 4, a coalition of some of Britain’s biggest environmental and development groups sent a joint letter to Government warning that the RTFO might do more harm than good.

The groups, including Greenpeace, Oxfam, CAFOD and Friends of the Earth, also demanded the postponement of the legislation.

Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s chief scientific adviser said: “For one of the Government’s top scientists to describe these plans as potentially insane suggests that something has gone seriously wrong here. The targets should be scrapped.”

Kate Martin

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