Government announces major biofuel review - Greenpeace responds

Last edited 21 February 2008 at 4:04pm
21 February, 2008

Greenpeace today welcomed the government's announcement of a scientific review into the impacts of biofuels, but insisted that Britain's biofuel targets be suspended until the full consequences of the technology are properly understood.

The study, to be conducted by the UK's new Renewable Fuels Agency (1), will look both at the immediate impact of biofuels and at so-called "indirect effects".

For example, these effects include an increase in demand for palm oil, which is imported into the EU to be used in the food industry because homegrown rape seed oil is increasingly being used in biofuels. Palm oil is heavily linked with deforestation in Indonesia, which creates massive greenhouse gas emissions (2).

Recent scientific evidence shows that these "indirect effects" could produce huge greenhouse gas emissions which would more than negate any potential savings that biofuels can offer over conventional fuels like petrol and diesel (3).

However, current government and EU policies will oblige all suppliers to include biofuels in the fuel mix over the next few years. The UK policy, called the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, comes into operation on 15 April this year. From this date, every forecourt in the country will have to provide 2.5 per cent of its fuel from biofuel sources - rising to 5% by 2010.

Responding to the news, John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK said: "The scientific evidence is mounting - biofuels are often more damaging to the climate than the fossil fuels they are designed to replace. While it's good news that the Government has commissioned a report to assess the consequences of these fuels, the fact remains that from April this year we'll be forced to pump biofuels into our petrol tanks. The government needs to introduce a moratorium on the UK's biofuel targets until this review has been published."

Biofuels currently make up a proportion of the EU's 2020 renewable energy target. Greenpeace believes that it is essential that if biofuels are taken out of this mix then the headline target remains the same, and the shortfall is made up by the electricity and heat sectors - where technologies such as wind, wave, tidal, solar, biomass, biogas and hydro power can all contribute.

Indeed, it is widely accepted that using biofuels in the transport sector is far less effective than using the same land to grow biomass (like wood chip) for use in the heating and electricity sectors.

Sauven continued: "The uncertainty over biofuels must not be used as an excuse to derail the EU's ambitious renewable energy targets. We need to produce 20 per cent of our energy from renewables by 2020 to show real leadership at tackling climate change - but we can achieve this without the use of biofuels."

(1)See announcement at and more about the Renewable Fuel Agency at
(2) See
(3) Searchinger et al, Science, published online 7 Feb 2008.

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