14 January 2008
Biofuels risk failing to deliver significant reductions in greenhouse
gas emissions from transport and could even be environmentally damaging
unless the Government puts the right policies in place warns a new Royal Society(1) report today (Monday 14 January 2008).
The report Sustainable Biofuels: prospects and challenges cautions that the
UK's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which comes into force in April
2008, does not necessarily encourage the use of the types of biofuels with the
best greenhouse gas savings. This is because, although the Obligation requires
fuel suppliers to ensure that five per cent of all UK fuels sold are from a
renewable source by 2010(2), it does not contain a target to reduce greenhouse
The RTFO is the UK's implementation of the EU Biofuels Directive, which also
fails to include a greenhouse gas target. As a result, the Directive will do
more for economic development and energy security than combating climate
Professor John Pickett, who chaired the Royal Society biofuels study(3),
said: "Biofuels could play an important role in cutting greenhouse gas emissions
from transport both here and globally. Cars, lorries and domestic air travel are
responsible for a massive 25 per cent of all the UK's greenhouse gas emissions
and this figure is growing faster than for any other sector."
"The Government must ensure that the RTFO promotes fuels with the lowest
emissions by, for example, setting a greenhouse gas reduction target. This will
help encourage the improvement of existing fuels and accelerate the development
of new ones. Without a target we risk missing important opportunities to
stimulate exciting innovations that will help us cut our spiralling transport
The report also recommends that the RTFO be extended for 20 years in order to
stimulate the kind of long term investment necessary to foster a strong UK
biofuels industry. It warns that without the right support, including of the
research and development community, there is a risk that we will miss out on
developing the biofuels that could bring greater benefits and that we could
become locked in to using inefficient biofuels.
John Pickett said: "In designing policies and incentives to encourage
investment in and the use of biofuels it is important to remember that one
biofuel is not the same as another. The greenhouse gas savings of each depends
on how crops are grown and converted and how the fuel is used. So,
indiscriminately increasing the amount of biofuels we are using may not
automatically lead to the best reductions in emissions."
The report calls for biofuels to be assessed and certified for the greenhouse
gas savings they will deliver, as well as their positive and negative social and
John Pickett said: "The UK is leading the way internationally by developing
carbon and sustainability reporting for biofuels as part of the RTFO. This
information is crucial so we can identify and promote the fuels produced in a
way that is good for people and the environment. We have a particular
responsibility to do so since the UK will have to rely on crops grown elsewhere
in the world to meet demand.
"We must not create new environmental or social problems in our efforts to
deal with climate change. Indeed, while the RTFO is a reasonable start, unless
certification is applied to the production of all biofuels and is a system used
by all countries we will merely displace rather than remedy the potentially
negative effects of these fuels."
The report says that biofuels are not the silver bullet for meeting the
rising demand for transport while tackling emissions. Delivering a sustainable
transport system will require combining biofuels with other developments
including the improved design of vehicles and engines, increased use of public
transport and better urban and rural planning to encourage, for example, walking
and the use of bicycles.
A video interview with Professor John Pickett can be seen here