Reaching the biofuel target

Giving the green light to biofuels is one thing.

Pulling together a mechanism to ensure fuel from UK fields powers the drive for greener road transport is quite another.

That is the over-riding reaction to last week’s government announcement that it is to adopt a Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation.

The move has drawn widespread approval from the industry even though it falls short of the European target of 8% by volume, the equivalent of 5.75% by energy.

But commentators have also pointed out how the goal will be achieved has yet to be decided and remains subject to consultation.

Prominent in their reactions is also the fact that there is a need to guard against environmentally suspect biofuels flooding into the country at the expense of UK growers.

NFU deputy president Peter Kendall has hailed the news of a 5% obligation by 2010 as a “breakthrough”.

“It’s brilliant news, and has come as the result of a lot of hard work from many different organisations.

It shows farming can help provide solutions to the problems of climate change.”

The decision will not make farmers rich, but it should put tension in the market and help remove exportable surpluses, he explained.

The NFU intends to use the consultation period to make sure UK growers’ interests are safeguarded, he added.

NFU Scotland said it is keen that the 5% target be made the goal for domestic biofuel production.

“Our view is that as soon as you’re burning fossil fuels to import biofuels then it’s more like a scene out of Yes Minister than a
meaningful commitment to development of the industry in the UK,” said spokesman James Withers.

“Let’s not export jobs when we’re perfectly placed to produce biofuels here.

The Country Land and Business Association will be lobbying hard to ensure UK and imported biofuels are produced to equal environmental standards, according to the CLA’s head of rural economy Oliver Harwood.

“There absolutely must be environmental certification.

The announcement says there will be, but the devil lies in the detail.”

Peter Clery of the British Association for Biofuels and Oils stressed that imported fuel must carry a comparable authenticated certificate.

“We cannot bar imports under world trade agreements.”

But rising oil prices and the 2-8p/litre cost of shipping biofuel from Brazil should work in UK growers’ favour, he suggested.

A key aspect of the obligation will be assuring sustainability, according to the Renewable Power Association’s Clare Wenner.

International trade rules make it hard for government to adopt a universally accepted assurance standard, which is why it has opted for reporting of carbon saved through voluntary assurance.

But the concept of awarding ReTFO certificates linked to carbon savings is, for now, likely to be a step too far, she said.

According to the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership: “An effective and properly incentivised carbon and sustainability assurance scheme will help ensure that greenhouse gas and broader sustainability objectives are achieved.”

The HGCA’s Alastair Dickie pointed out that the UK already has a well developed structure of accreditation and assurance schemes for the food industry involving tens of thousands of farms.

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