Current UK and European policies on biofuels encourage unethical practices, claims a new report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
Policymakers are criticised for failing to protect the environment, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to avoid human rights violations in developing countries.
As the results of the 18-month inquiry were released today, Professor Joyce Tait who led the research said: “Biofuels are one of the only renewable alternatives we have for transport fuels such as petrol and diesel, but current policies and targets that encourage their uptake have backfired badly.
“The rapid expansion of biofuels production in the developing world has led to problems such as deforestation and the displacement of indigenous people. We want a more sophisticated strategy that considers the wider consequences of biofuel production.”
Government should be pushing businesses towards ethical biofuel solutions added Professor Ottoline Leyser, one of the authors of the ‘Biofuels: ethical issues’ report.
Prof Leyser said: “Researchers are developing new types of biofuels that need less land, produce fewer greenhouse gases and do not compete with food, but commercial-scale production is many years away. The government should do more to encourage research into these more ethical types of biofuels.”
Responding to the criticism, Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “It has already been agreed that no biofuel will count towards our renewable energy targets unless it meets certain sustainability requirements. But we are pushing the Commission to go further, to take action to reduce the risk that producing biofuels will have knock-on effects including deforestation in new areas (ILUC) and we are proposing a cautious approach towards implementing European legislation.
“Be in no doubt, we consider the sustainability of biofuels to be paramount and the Government takes this issue very seriously.”
The UK has an obligation that 5% of transport fuel must come from renewable sources by 2013, and the EU’s European Renewable Energy Directive set a target for 10% of transport fuel to come from renewable sources by 2020.