8 July 2008

UK’s Transport Secretary and Environment Secretary set out a new approach to biofuels, including that the introduction of biofuels in the UK should be slowed down to take into account emerging scientific evidence about their sustainability.

Under the new approach, the UK government will:

  • Consult on slowing down the rate of increase in the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation so that the level of biofuels will increase to 5% by 2013/14, rather than 2010/11.
  • Continue to support the EU target of 10% renewable transport fuels by 2020, but argue that the target is conditional on the evidence showing that it is being delivered sustainably and without significant impacts on food prices.
  • Press for the 10% target to be kept under regular review in the light of the emerging evidence.
  • Press that the sustainability criteria for biofuels, currently being negotiated, should address indirect, as well as direct, effects on land use.

The new biofuels position is based on the findings of the “Review of the Indirect Effects of Biofuels” authored by Professor Ed Gallagher, the head of the government’s Renewable Fuels Agency.

The key findings of the review are that:

  • Government should “amend but not abandon its biofuel policy”. Biofuels can play a role in tackling climate change and “there is a future for a sustainable biofuels industry”.
  • However, there is a strong need for further evidence and monitoring to determine the sustainability and wider impacts of biofuels,
  • There is a risk that the uncontrolled expansion and use of biofuels could drive unsustainable land use change. In turn this might lead to net increases in greenhouse gas emissions and potentially contribute to rising food prices.
  • At the EU level a 10%, by energy content, renewable transport fuel target is not presently justified by the scientific evidence, but could be possible if a number of important conditions are fulfilled, eg. sufficient controls on land-use change being enforced globally as part of a new climate agreement, and new evidence providing further confidence that the target can be met sustainably.

The review has also found that increasing demand for biofuels contributes to rising prices for some commodities, notably for oil seeds, but that the scale of their effects is complex and uncertain to model.

The UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation requires that 2.5% (by volume) of the road transport fuels is made up of biofuels effective April 2008. This level will rise to 3.75% in April 2009, and 5% in April 2010.

The EU’s 2003 Biofuels Directive requires Member States to set biofuel targets for 2010, and suggests that these targets should be in the region of 5.75% (by energy content), equivalent to around 7.5% by volume. The European Commission’s draft proposed Renewable Energy Directive includes a proposed mandatory renewable transport fuel target of 10% (by energy content) by 2020, equivalent to around 13% by volume.

Source: UK DFT | Gallagher review