Government advised to go slow on biofuels

The pace at which biofuels are introduced into UK transport and industry should be slowed down, a new report from the government’s Renewable Fuels Agency has recommended.

The so-called Gallagher Review, conducted by the RFA’s chairman Ed Gallagher, was commissioned by UK transport secretary Ruth Kelly in February 2008.

This was done in response to suggestions that increasing demand for biofuels might indirectly cause carbon emissions to increase because of land use change. There were also concerns that demand for biofuels may be driving food insecurity by causing food price increases.

In the review published on Monday (7 July), Prof Gallagher insists that biofuels can play a role in tackling climate change and “there is a future for a sustainable biofuels industry”.

“But, there is a strong need for further evidence and monitoring to determine the sustainability and wider impacts of biofuels.”

In particular, he calls for a slowdown in the rate at which biofuels are introduced.

The UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) requires road transport fuel to contain 2.5% biofuels this year, rising to 5% in 2010.

The Gallagher review suggests this 5% target be extended to 2013/2014.

It also says that the EU’s separate target of a 10% inclusion rate by 2020 is not justified.

The UK government should therefore argue that this target is conditional on it being delivered sustainably, without significant impacts on food prices.

Transport secretary Ruth Kelly said; “I agree that we should take a precautionary approach over the next few years, until we are clearer about their (biofuels’) wider effects on the environment.”

DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn added: “It is clearer than ever that we need to break our dependence on oil. We need to proceed more cautiously than previously thought, but we should not give up on the potential for some biofuels to help us tackle climate change now and in the future.”

NFU vice president Paul Temple urged the government to “stand firm on biofuels” and not create uncertainty by changing targets.

With rising energy costs playing a key role in food price increases, the correct response to tackle inflation was to redouble efforts to produce biofuels sustainably, not constrain their development.

But the RSPB declared the Gallagher review “the last chance to put the brakes on biofuels”.

“The review admits we are hurtling towards environmental disaster,” said RSPB conservation director Mark Avery. “If it is not stopped, the destruction of rainforest and grasslands will continue. And with that will come huge carbon emissions and loss of wildlife.”