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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 01:00 GMT
Call to abandon biofuels targets
By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst

A tractor
Biofuels are increasing in popularity

The EU should abandon its biofuels targets because they are damaging the environment, a committee of MPs says.

The Environmental Audit Committee says biofuels are ineffective at cutting greenhouse gases and can be expensive.

It also says problematic emissions from cars can be cut more cheaply and with lower environmental risk.

The report comes in the week the EU launches a huge, over-arching climate change strategy which includes rules aimed at reducing damage from biofuels.

In a draft, the EU admits that the current target of 5.75% biofuels on the roads by 2010 is unlikely to be achieved. But it maintains its target of 10% road biofuel by 2020.

It states that in future biofuels should not be grown on forest land, wetland - including peat - or permanent grassland, a move that will please critics.

At present most biofuels have a detrimental impact on the environment overall
Tim Yeo MP

The EU will also stipulate that biofuels should achieve a minimum level of greenhouse gas savings.

But these figures have been contested, and it looks as though the calculation will exclude the carbon released by disturbing soil when the biofuels are planted. That would prove very controversial.

It is also unclear how the EU will ensure that its biofuels production on agricultural land does not push up food prices or displace food production, forcing local communities or agri-businesses into felling virgin forest to grow crops.

The committee of MPs says the targets are putting up food prices and threatening food supplies for the poor.

The EU and the UK government should concentrate on the use of "sustainable" biofuels such as waste vegetable oil and the development of more efficient biofuel technologies, it adds.

Sustainability fears

The Environmental Audit Committee says the UK government and the EU have been "misguided" in prioritising biofuels for road transport when it is much more efficient under current technology to use them for heating and cooling.

The committee notes that last week BBC News published an admission by the EU Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, that the EU had not foreseen all the problems entailed in biofuels.

The MPs say this proves the need for a moratorium on the target until it is proved that biofuels can be produced sustainably.

It says current agricultural support for biofuels is largely unsustainable.

Committee chairman Tim Yeo said: "Biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road transport - but at present most biofuels have a detrimental impact on the environment overall."

The report is strongly backed by the RSPB which calls current biofuels targets "farcical".

The Royal Society shares the committee's concern that the EU should ensure that the most efficient biofuels are encouraged - but fears a backlash against biofuels which might deter investment in better biofuel technologies.

European Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, responding to the report of the House of Commons, said: "The commission strongly disagrees with the conclusion of the Environmental Audit Committee of the British House of Commons report, where it says that the overall environmental effect of existing biofuel policy is negative.

"On the contrary, it is delivering significant greenhouse gas reductions, compared with its alternative, oil."

SEE ALSO
EU rethinks biofuels guidelines
14 Jan 08 |  Europe
Biofuels 'are not a magic bullet'
14 Jan 08 |  Science/Nature
Quick guide: Biofuels
24 Jan 07 |  Science/Nature

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