British government sets out new approach on biofuels

  • 14-Aug-2008 10:26 EDT
The U.K.’s “Gallagher Review” states there is a future for sustainable biofuels.

The British Secretary of State for Transport, Ruth Kelly, and Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn, have set out the U.K. government’s approach regarding biofuels. The statement follows the publication of the “Gallagher Review,” commissioned by the U.K. government in February. The review was prompted by rising food prices and recent research into the effects of land-use change stimulated by the growing demand for biofuels.

Among the key findings of the report is that the U.K. should “amend but not abandon its biofuels policy.” This is mostly contained in the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which requires that, by 2010, road transport fuel in the U.K. contains at least 5% of fuel produced from renewable sources. The act was enforced in April 2008 in response to the European Union (EU) biofuels directive, which introduced a target for all member states of 5.75% renewable fuel in transport fuels by 2010.

According to the review, biofuels can play a role in tackling climate change and “there is a future for a sustainable biofuels industry.” Other key findings are that by 2020 “biofuels have the potential to deliver annual global greenhouse gas savings of approximately 338 to 371 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.” However, the review concludes that there is a strong need for further evidence and monitoring to determine the sustainability and wider impact of biofuels.

It points to a risk that the uncontrolled expansion and use of biofuels could drive unsustainable land-use change, which in turn might lead to net increases in greenhouse gas emissions and potentially contribute to rising food prices.

The review suggests that the current RTFO target of 2.5% biofuels by volume is sustainable but that caution should be shown regarding how fast further increases in renewable fuel substitution are introduced. Suggestions that a moratorium on biofuels should be introduced are rejected by the review, which states, “A moratorium will reduce the ability of the biofuels industry to invest in new technologies or transform the sourcing of its feedstock to the more sustainable supplies necessary to create a truly sustainable industry. It will make it significantly more difficult for the potential of biofuels to be realized.”

At the EU level, a 10% (by energy content) renewable-transport-fuel target is not currently justified by the scientific evidence but could be possible if a number of important conditions are fulfilled, according to the report. These include sufficient controls on land-use change being enforced globally as part of a new climate agreement and new evidence providing further confidence that the target can be met sustainably.

As a result of the findings, the U.K. government has said that it will consult on slowing down the rate of increase in the RTFO so that the level of biofuel content will increase to 5% by 2013/14, instead of 2010/11. At the same time, it said it will continue to support the EU target of 10% renewable transport fuels by 2020 but will argue that the target is conditional on the evidence showing that it is being delivered sustainably and without significant impact on food prices.

The British government will press for this 10% target to be kept under regular review as new evidence emerges. It will also argue that the sustainability criteria for biofuels, currently under negotiation, should address indirect, as well as direct, effects on land use. Beyond European boundaries, the U.K. government will work to establish international standards and controls that reflect the international nature of the biofuels industry.

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