The environmental impact of clearing forests to make way for biofuel crops is such that using fossil fuel in cars is better for the environment than biofuels made from crops such as palm oil.
Under the minimum sustainability standard set by the European Commission, biofuel should reduce emissions by at least 35 per cent compared with fossil fuel, but the results of a study reported in The Times newspaper today reveal that palm oil increases emissions by 31 per cent because of indirect land use change (ILUC). ILUC results in a release of carbon when forest and grassland is turned into biofuel crop plantations. Other commonly-used biofuel crops such as rape seed and soy also fail to meet the standard.
The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation requires that by 2020 the amount of biofuel added to diesel be increased to 13 per cent, but once ILUC is taken into account the entire EU biofuel policy is questionable. The EU spends £3billion each year on subsidising biofuel production.
A spokesperson for the Environmental Transport Association (ETA) said: “The European Commission cannot simply gloss over the effect of ILUC – if biofuel is to be used it must be environmentally robust.”
“Tax the producers of carbon dioxide and other climate change gases, and changes will occur faster than if government tries to second guess future technologies and personal taste. Biofuel could be a false dawn but in a future guise it could be great – just tax what we know to be bad and the good will flow from the results.”
Is all biofuel bad for the environment?
A distinction must be drawn between first-generation biofuels, which use food crops such as corn, rapeseed, palm and soya, and the currently experimental second-generation fuels based on fibrous non-food plants which could be grown without displacing other crops and raising food prices.
It is possible to turn used cooking oil into environmentally-friendly biofuel that can be used in many diesel-engined vehicles. The ‘FuelPod 2’ is the size of a small fridge and is capable of producing up to 50 litres of biodiesel every day.
The impact of deforestation
Tropical deforestation contributes around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions – similar to the amount generated by America and China. Forests are lost for a variety of reasons, but the production of biofuel crops is undoubtedly playing a part.
|The impact of deforeatation||…at a glance|
|Philippine archipelago forests||90% lost|
|Madagascar rainforests||95% lost|
|Brazilian Mata Atlântica forest||90-95% lost|