Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ethics Council's verdict on biofuels

Ethics Council's verdict on biofuels

Yesterday I went to the launch of a new independent report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics that concluded that UK and European biofuel targets are unethical, violate human rights and damage the environment.

The report confirms many of the negative impacts of biofuels that Friends of the Earth has been warning about. Wildlife habitats are being destroyed when forests or peatlands are cleared to grow fuel crops, biofuels can produce more greenhouse gas emissions than they save and the competition for land between biofuels and food crops is pushing up food prices around the world.

The report's Chair Joyce Tait told the BBC: "It is clear that current EU policies as currently produced and incentivised are unsuitable and unethical."

She also said: "The rapid expansion of biofuels production in the developing world has led to problems such as deforestation and the displacement of indigenous people".

The report's authors define five ethical principles biofuel production must meet before it can be regarded as sustainable. But they acknowledge in order to meet these principles far reaching global agreements, e.g. on land use change, would be required first. Not a realistic prospect.

The reality looks different: European regulations on biofuels are about to come into force in the UK which ignore most biofuel impacts.

Biofuel impacts not addressed by the EU regulation include:

increasing food prices and hunger
knock-on effects on deforestation and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss
the diversion of water away from human consumption

And on top of this, social criteria regarding land right conflicts and working conditions that were previously part of UK legislation will be scrapped when the new EU rules will be implemented here.

The report also investigates potential future biofuels from cellulosic ethanol and algae, but acknowledges that it is uncertain when they will be available and whether these pose new challenges to sustainability.

Friends of the Earth believes that while biofuel production remains unsustainable and unethical the Government must scrap biofuel targets and instead focus on the real solutions proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Measures like greener cars and better public transport that reduce fuel use rather than replace one destructive fuel with another.


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Biofuels are a wide range of fuels which are in some way derived from biomass.

Your idea?