The government has implemented the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) amid increasing calls from campaigners for it to be scrapped – with some even labelling today "April Biofools Day". The RTFO means that, from today, fuel suppliers must ensure that all fuel sold on UK forecourts contains at least 2.5%
biofuels – rising to 5% by 2010. The government has been accused of rushing through the law, part of an EU obligation, in an effort to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced by the UK’s 33m vehicles.
Critics – including environmental groups and even the government’s own chief scientist – have warned that until more is known about the sustainability of biofuels, the RTFO could actually do more environmental and social harm than good. The RSPB, Greenpeace and Oxfam are among those who have urged the government to put its plans on hold until more research is carried out in the area. They fear that not only will the RTFO help to destroy natural habitats and destroy species, it will have the added effect of increasing food prices because land could be used to produce crops for fuel instead of food. They are also concerned that the push for biofuels will accelerate climate change and actually create more greenhouse gases than traditional fossil fuels – with Greenpeace even labelling today April Biofool’s Day in a bid to create awareness of its opinion on the RTFO.
Yesterday the Green Party slammed the UK’s biofuel policy as “misguided and irresponsible”. Dr Caroline Lucas MEP called for the RTFO to be scrapped immediately in the face of overwhelming evidence that mass-scale biofuel production was seriously hampering efforts to reduce climate change, protect local eco-systems and improve food security.
Dr Lucas said: “The social and environmental impacts of mass agrofuels have simply not been taken into account, as industrialised nations push this dangerous energy policy against a background of a hollow public policy debate. There is a new political awareness that agrofuels are exacerbating the very problems they sought to solve, yet only the Greens are demanding the Government’s RTFO targets are scrapped, and we call on the EU to suspend its agrofuel expansion, targets and imports until the full consequences of this new breed of fuel are understood.
“It almost beggars belief that, in considering how to reduce transport emissions, the government is ignoring the need to increase vehicle efficiency, or to promote a modal shift from private to public transport, preferring instead to put all its faith in mass agrofuels, which have been found to exacerbate poverty through land grabbing, land conflicts, and food insecurity. According to Secretary of State for Transport Ruth Kelly, biofuels are ‘one of the few existing feasible ways of slowing the growth of carbon emissions from transport’. If she can’t see that a far more effective and efficient way would be to reduce demand, improve efficiency and develop sustainable transport and energy systems, then she should be replaced by someone who does.”
Other previous critics include the Royal Society and the Government’s highest-ranking environment scientist, Professor Robert Watson. Yesterday environmental groups including Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Oxfam held a protest outside Parliament urging the government not to go ahead with the new law. Friends of the Earth has also demanded that the EU drops its biofuel targets and instead look for “real solutions to climate change that are already available and less risky and more efficient”. The group is so worried it is urging people to email their MP to ask them to vote against biofuel targets.
The government’s Transport Minister Jim Fitzpatrick has defended the implementation of the RTFO, saying: “Making it easier for motorists to use greener fuel is an important step towards reducing carbon emissions from transport. It should help save millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide in the coming years. But we must do all we can to ensure biofuels are produced sustainably. We know people are concerned about the environmental risks associated with expanding biofuel production and we take those concerns very seriously.
“That is why we want to introduce mandatory standards as soon as possible to guarantee that biofuels don’t cause deforestation or food shortages and we are leading international work to do this. In the meantime, we require suppliers to produce sustainability reports, providing an immediate incentive for them to source biofuels responsibly.”