The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee has reiterated its call for a moratorium on biofuel inclusion targets, despite pressure from government to be more supportive of the emerging sector.

The group of 16 MPs published their first report, called Are biofuels sustainable?, in January this year.

In it, they said that government should not have specific targets to increase the use of biofuels in the absence of robust sustainability standards, because there was evidence that many biofuels actually do more harm than good to the environment.

They were also concerned about the impact of biofuels on food prices.

The EAC therefore demanded that the government impose a moratorium on all such targets and instead “concentrate on the use of sustainable biofuels such as waste vegetable oil”.

In its response – sent to the committee at the end of March, but only made available today (Friday) – the government rejected the idea of a moratorium because:
• it believed the inclusion targets (2.5% this year, 5% by 2011) were “appropriately cautious”
• an opportunity to make carbon savings would be missed
• it would mean reneging on an earlier commitment, when some have already invested 

But these issues have been rejected by the EAC. Even though the UK could, in theory, meet a 2.5% target, in reality much will be imported, with major impacts on land use and food prices in Third countries.

It also disputes the extent to which carbon savings will be possible, especially considering that significant imports will be needed to meet the 5% inclusion rate and factoring in extra greenhouse gas emissions from land use change.

Sustainability

On the subject of sustainability criteria, the government also rejected criticism by the EAC that the standards applied to the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation were ineffective.

“Whilst by no means a perfect system, the reporting mechanism under RTFO will be an important first step towards mandatory standards,” it said.

But the EAC is adamant that stringent standards to prevent damaging land use change, such as cutting down rainforests, must be in place before embarking on policies that encourage demand for first generation biofuels.

This view is supported by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

“Few people, beyond those with business interests, now back biofuel targets,” said head of countryside conservation Sue Armstrong-Brown. “Even the Prime Minister has accepted that biofuels have an impact on the environment and are making food shortages worse. Scrapping biofuel targets is one more U-turn the government should make.”