Environmental Audit Committee

Monday 21 January 2008


Committee calls for moratorium on biofuels

Although it recognises that some biofuels are sustainable and can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) concludes today that the Government and EU should not have pursued targets to increase the use of biofuels in the absence of robust sustainability standards and mechanisms to prevent damaging land use change.

In its report, Are biofuels sustainable?, the Committee says that without these measures some biofuels could lead to environmental damage in the UK and the destruction of environmentally crucial rainforests. It urges the Government to ensure that biofuels policy balances greenhouse gas cuts with wider environmental impacts so that biofuels contribute to sustainable emission reductions.

The report also concludes that biofuels are generally an expensive and ineffective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions when compared to other policies. Emissions from road transport can be cut cost-effectively, and with lower environmental risk, by implementing a range of other policies.

The EAC wants a moratorium on biofuel targets. It argues that instead the Government should concentrate on the use of sustainable biofuels such as waste vegetable oil and the development of more efficient biofuel technologies that could have a role to play in the future once they have been shown to be sustainable.

The Committee also concludes that:

  • biofuels are unlikely to improve fuel security as they largely rely on fossil fuels for their production;

  • current agricultural support for biofuels is largely unsustainable;

  • there could be significant opportunities for cost-effectively cutting greenhouse gas emissions by planting forests and restoring habitats; and

  • a large biofuel industry based on current technology is likely to increase food prices and could damage food security in developing countries.

EAC 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.

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. Without this reassessment biofuels could lead to a range of environmental impacts including water pollution and biodiversity loss. In addition the absence of international mechanisms to protect rainforests means that biofuels will add further to the already significant pressures to cut them down to make way for palm oil plantations.

On the basis of current biofuel technology, more greenhouse gas cuts could be achieved at lower cost and risk by implementing a range of other policies.

Advanced second generation biofuels may have an important role in the future, but these technologies are some years away. The Government should support their development by creating a stable investment climate out to 2020.

Notes for Editors:

Biofuels are liquid fuels produced from organic matter rather than from fossil fuels which are a finite and non-renewable resource. Most biofuels, known as first generation biofuels, are currently produced from conventional food and fodder crops.

Copies of the report will be available in hard copy from 11am on 21 January 2008; and can be obtained from TSO outlets and from the Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, Parliament Square, London SW1A 2JX (020 7219 3890) by quoting House of Commons No 740.  The text of the Report will also be available from approximately 3.30pm onwards on its publication date, on the Committee's Internet homepage: www.parliament.uk/eacom

For further information on the report, or to bid to interview the Chairman, journalists may phone the Committee’s press officer, Laura Kibby, on 020 7219 0718.

The report published today by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is its First Report of Session 2007-08, Are biofuels sustainable?, HC 76-I. Details of all the Committee’s press releases together with its Reports, oral evidence and other publications, are available on the Committee’s website at: www.parliament.uk/eacom