Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Boost for biofuels is bad

Very disappointed indeed to hear that MPs have agreed new subsidies for  biofuels like palm oil. Biofuels certainly dont qualify as green since they originate from large scale monocultures of oil palms (see image), sugar cane, soya, maize, sugar beet, oilseed rape and jatropha, with very large forested areas cleared for the energy and chemical intensive cultivation of single crops.
Biofuels, sometimes called agrofuels contribute substantially more to greenhouse gas emissions by nitrous oxide emissions from fertiliser use and by land conversion, than are saved by burning slightly less fossil fuels. They significantly accelerate climate change, something academic and green campaigner George Monbiot has written about with some passion (also see

Its not just climate impact that makes biofuels from monocultures distinctly non-green. There are bio-diversity losses, water and soil degradation, human rights abuses including the impoverishment and dispossession of local populations, the loss of food sovereignty and food security and a stimulus to rising food prices around the globe. Despite this the BBC reports that: 
An all-party scrutiny committee agreed new payments for renewable energy - including palm oil. [Note they are only renewable in practice if they are properly and sensitively managed so that resource use rate is less than the replenishment rate ie such that resources don’t run down or degrade.]

This commodity is blamed for creating more greenhouse gases than it saves, and for destroying the rainforest habitat of orangutans.

The government says biofuels are needed to help keep the lights on and to meet greenhouse gas emission targets. [If they did their carbon sums properly they'd know it is a falsehood that biofuels help cut carbon emissions]

Environmentalists are also concerned at new subsidies for burning wood pellets in power stations. They say the huge scale of imported wood is unsustainable.

Oxfam's policy adviser Tracy Carty said the MPs' decision made no sense because it would only increase the burning of harmful biofuels in UK power plants.

"Biofuels, like palm oil, produce more carbon emissions than they save, fuel land grabs and increase global food prices," she said.

"Germany and The Netherlands have decided to remove these types of subsidies and it's high time the UK did the same. The UK government needs to seriously reassess its bankrolling of biofuels, and take a lead in securing an end to harmful EU biofuel targets this year."

See BBC reports and links here. Further posts on biofuels here.

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