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Biofuels 'do more harm than good to environment' says Royal Society

Biofuels will cause more harm than good to the environment unless strict controls are imposed on how they are grown, the Royal Society has cautioned.

While they have the potential to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change, biofuels will devastate forests and other habitats unless controlled, scientists said.

The Royal Society report of a 14-month inquiry was published as the European Union announced that its targets for biofuels are to be re-examined because of fears of their impact on the environment. Stavros Dimas, its Environment Commissioner, said that the environmental consequences of boosting biofuel production and the effects on poor communities were bigger than originally thought.

The misgivings followed increasing anxiety about forests being cut down and savanna and other habitats being dug up to make room for biofuel crops. Communities living on the lands often had little say in the decisions and there is rising concern about the competition for agricultural land between biofuels and crops to feed the expanding world population.

Scientists questioned strongly the EU target of deriving 10 per cent of petrol and diesel needs from renewable sources by 2020 and said curbing carbon dioxide emissions would be achieved more easily by restoring and protecting forests. The quantity of carbon dioxide absorbed by forests over 30 years would be “considerably greater” than the emissions avoided by using biofuels, a study published last year in the journal Science concluded.

The Royal Society report, Sustainable biofuels: prospects and challenges, called on the Government to switch emphasis from the quantity of biofuels produced to the effect such a reduction had on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. John Pickett, of Rothamsted Research, who chaired the inquiry, said too little was known about the benefits and costs of each biofuel crop.

The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO), being introduced in April, requires suppliers to ensure that 5 per cent of all fuel sold in Britain comes from renewable sources. The Royal Society report demanded that it take account of how effective the fuel was at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


January 14, 2008