The UK’s use of biofuels could destroy 1.6m hectares of the world’s wildlife habitat by 2020, an area bigger than the size of Northern Ireland, according to research from the Institute for European Environmental Policy.
These ‘green’ fuels would additionally create 13 mega tonnes of CO2 per year, the equivalent of having an extra six million cars on our roads.
Environmental groups have seized upon the research to lambast the UK’s stance on biofuels.
Friends of the Earth’s biofuels campaigner Kenneth Richter said: “This research reveals the scale of the damage that misguided biofuels targets will cause to forest habitats and communities – and the UK is set to have the worst track record in Europe.”
ActionAid’s biofuels policy advisor Tim Rice said biofuel targets “effectively give companies a blank cheque to continue grabbing land from the world’s poor to grow biofuels that will fill people’s cars rather than their stomachs”.
And Greenpeace UK’s chief policy advisor Ruth Davis added: “Unlike other kinds of oil, biofuels include the three magic letters ‘bio’ – making them the perfect greenwash for today’s wasteful and polluting vehicles.”
The environmental groups also claim the research shows deforestation will displace other farming activity, forcing further deforestation and loss of wildlife. They allege that in order for the UK government to meet its renewable energy target for transport, it has chosen to implement the highest increase in the use of biofuels of any EU country, making it the biggest importer of biofuels in Europe.
Responding to the report, the Renewable Energy Association said that UK biofuels have been consistently delivering carbon savings of 70% and over compared to fossil fuels, and producing the highest sustainability scores of any biofuels sold in the UK.
REA chief executive Gaynor Hartnell said: “We share many common views with the NGOs behind this report.We should be reducing energy consumption (including from transport) and stopping damaging land use practices.Fortunately the Renewable Energy Directive has clauses which will prevent this.”
But she added: “The problem is that the UK has not implemented these yet, nor does it intend to until the end of 2011. Unsustainable biofuels will be excluded from many European countries, but not the UK – a ludicrous situation, given the UK’s previous leadership in setting standards.”
The REA has been pressing the government to ensure carbon savings from biofuels are maximised through the Fuel Quality Directive.
The UK biofuel market is small – 3.5% of the total fuel supplies, or roughly 2.8% by energy. Research undertaken by the REA and peer reviewed by Imperial College London has shown that the vast majority of the EU target could be met without impacting on world food markets.
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