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Biofuels bad for climate, motorists and business, says green group

Green transport news - by GreenWise staff
2nd February 2012
Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to stop plans to increase the level of biofuels in UK petrol, saying it will do nothing to cut carbon emissions and cost motorists and businesses billions of pounds at the petrol pump.
The green group and charity ActionAid UK have released new research, which they say shows that increasing the amount of biofuels in UK petrol will cost £2 billion extra per year in fuel costs for British motorists and will costs a typical UK lorry driver £1,400 extra per year. Moreover, the study shows that most biofuels increase greenhouse gas emissions rather than cut them.

Under the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive, 10 per cent of all energy used in EU transport must come from renewable sources by 2020. UK petrol already contains four per cent of biofuel. To meet its share of the EU target the Government is committed to increasing the amount of biofuels in UK petrol by to at least 4.7 per cent by April 15 2012, rising to five per cent in 2013. 

But the new research, commissioned by the two charities from the International Institute for Sustainable Development, suggests the Government’s plans would mean the total cumulative year-on-year cost to UK motorists from 2010 to 2020 would be in the region of £ 10 - £14 billion (assuming a linear uptake of biofuels). 

Carbon emissions
And instead of cutting emissions, it would create an extra 13 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year, says Friends of the Earth. Other analysis by the green group shows that instead of being 35 to 50 per cent less polluting than fossil fuels, once land use impacts are included, the extra biofuels that will come to the EU market will be on average 81 per cent to 167 per cent worse for the climate than fossil fuels.

"The Government keeps talking about bringing down costs but here we are paying billions for biofuels that do nothing to boost our economy and nothing to tackle climate change," Kenneth Richter, Friends of the Earth’s Biofuels campaigner, said. "This money would be better spent on improving our train and bus services, promoting cleaner cars, and making cycling a much safer option for short journeys – saving people cash every day." 

Impact on food production
The impact of increasing biofuels in UK petrol will also make more people in developing countries go hungry and push them off their land as biofuel crops are grown instead of food, the report concludes. 

Worldwide, at least 37 million hectares of land has already been grabbed to produce biofuels, with Africa hit the hardest, says ActionAid UK. Estimates suggest that meeting the EU 10 per cent target will push another 600 million people into poverty, according to the charity.

"Increased biofuel production will have disastrous consequences as food prices are forced up and millions of people go hungry and lose their land," said Meredith Alexander, ActionAid UK’s head of Policy.

Advanced biofuels
However, not everyone agrees that the UK has to cut its biofuel target. 

A recent study by the National Centre for Biorenewable Energy, Fuels and Materials (NNFCC), suggests second-generation biofuels, such as that derived from household rubbish, could meet up to 4.3 per cent of the UK’s renewable transport fuel target by 2020 – almost half of the 10 per cent target the UK must meet under the EU Renewable Energy Directive. At this scale, the NNFCC said advanced biofuels would save 3.2 million tonnes of CO2 each year – equivalent to taking nearly a million cars off the road. But it acknowledged the Government would have to invest more in second-generation biofuels to achieve these targets. 

The Government is to shortly consult on whether to meet its share of the EU’s renewable energy target entirely through the use of biofuels.

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