A damning report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published this month says biofuels’ ability to tackle global warming is very limited, and that biofuels are only economically viable with large state subsidies that in turn could lead to rising food prices and damage to forests and wildlife.
The paper goes so far as to call for governments to “cease creating new mandates for biofuels” and to end existing targets. Instead it says technology-neutral policies are needed, such as financial instruments, energy saving and improving vehicle efficiency.
The OECD is the latest in a growing list of respected bodies to cast doubt on the usefulness of biofuels. Others to express scepticism recently include the World Bank, the International Transport Forum, and the German Advisory Council on the Environment.
Earlier this year, EU leaders approved a goal that 10% of transport fuels should come from biomass by 2020. The goal was criticised by environmental groups for focusing on the technological means and not the desired outcome.
Now Brice Lalonde, the former French environment minister who chairs the OECD’s round table on sustainable development, says the EU may have to reduce its 10% target. “You cannot feed people and soak up carbon and protect biodiversity and fuel cars,” he told the Financial Times. “European transport ministers set the target ‘as long as it is sustainable’– that is a key sentence.”
The Commission is currently working on sustainability criteria to add to its biofuel proposal, but the OECD says such criteria are hard to enforce and could be invalid under international trade rules. “Though theoretically possible,” it says, “reliance on certification schemes to ensure sustainable production is not a realistic safeguard.”
The OECD’s conclusions are supported by a new book on biofuels published by the American think-tank, the Worldwatch Institute. “Bio-fuels for Transport” argues that a massive increase in biofuels production could hasten deforestation and biodiversity loss and therefore speed up climate change.
The Commission published a report in July saying the EU’s 10% target could be achieved sustainably without disrupting European markets, but it was based on growing biomass crops in Europe, and few believe the 10% target can be met without large imports of biofuels.
• The British coach operator National Express has withdrawn from biofuel trials which would have seen some of its buses running on 30% biodiesel. The company has abandoned trials of first and second generation biofuels because it said there were too many sustainability issues still to be resolved.
This news story is taken from the September 2007 edition of T&E Bulletin.