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Does biofuel fail the green test?

863438_gas_station.jpgThe Royal Society for the Protection of Birds sent us this last week. It makes good reading…

There is a very serious risk that the renewable transport fuel obligation (RTFO) – a government plan to make manufacturers increase to five per cent the amount of fuel they produce from crops – will raise rather than reduce greenhouse gas emissions because manufacturers do not have to prove that emissions from ‘green’ energy production from biofuels are lower than fossil fuel equivalents.

Biofuels could contribute to climate change rather than help tackle it by encouraging the damage of tropical forests and grasslands, which are important for storing carbon and for wildlife.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said: “Biofuels could have a role to play in fighting climate change in the future, but the current lack of safeguards means that this measure could hasten climate change. It will also be expensive and risks destroying important wildlife habitats.

“Other measures such as better vehicle efficiency, enforcing motorway speed limits and increasing the use of greener transport would be far more effective in cutting emissions.”

The government believes the RTFO will cut carbon emissions by between 0.7 and 0.8 million tonnes yet research by its own transport advisors, the Commission for Integrated Transport, predicted similar savings if drivers complied with motorway speed limits, at a much lower cost and environmental risk.

Additionally, the RTFO will cost taxpayers up to £550m every year, through lost tax revenue.

Dr Avery said: “Current biofuels will produce small and highly variable greenhouse gas emissions cuts at best and an increase in emissions at worst. They also require high levels of public investment, and pose a significant risk to wildlife worldwide.

“We should be putting the brakes on biofuel development until we are sure that they can contribute to tackling climate change. Currently, they look more likely to make global warming far worse.

Biofuels are often referred to as ‘carbon neutral’ because they are made from organic matter that has absorbed carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. This is misleading because the production of biofuels involves the emission of harmful gases.

Bioethanol from wheat can cut emissions by up 80 per cent compared with conventional fuels but may also cause an eight per cent increase in emissions. Recent research showed that insufficient account is taken of nitrous oxide emissions from fertiliser use.

Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas that has a global warming potential 296 times that of carbon dioxide.

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