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British Parliamentary Report Questions Biofuel Benefits


A new British parliamentary report questions the sustainability of some biofuels. Tendai Maphosa reports for VOA from London that beginning in April Britain will require all gasoline and diesel sold in the country to have a 2.5 percent biofuel content.

The report called Are Biofuels Sustainable by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee calls for a moratorium on the 2.5 percent requirement. If implemented, it could rise to five percent in two years. The European Union wants to increase requirements to 10 percent by 2020.

While the report concedes that some biofuels are sustainable and can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, the report argues Britain and the European Union should not have pursued targets to increase the use of biofuels in the absence of robust sustainability standards and mechanisms to prevent damaging land use change.

The parliament committee says that without these measures some biofuels could lead to environmental damage and the destruction of environmentally crucial rainforests.

The report also concluded that a large biofuel industry based on current technology is likely to increase agricultural commodity prices and, by displacing food production, could damage food security in developing countries.

The chairman of the committee that authored the report, Tim Yeo, expanded on this in a British radio interview.

"A lot of them are produced from things like palm oil or sugar so they come from parts of the world where there is pressure for food production and even if the biofuels are not grown directly on land that is been previously a rainforest, they encourage other people to move on to that land taking away land that is for food," said Yeo. "They have devastatingly bad environmental consequences that will actually have the effect of increasing carbon concentration in the atmosphere not decreasing it."

The report recommends that biofuels should be utilized only when technology improves and an appropriate regulatory framework is in place.

In the meantime it says rather than supporting biofuels produced from conventional crops, the government should concentrate on the development of more efficient biofuel technologies that might have a sustainable role in the future.

According to the Observer newspaper, Britain uses sugarbeets to produce 55,000 tons a year of bio-ethanol, which is added to gasoline. A further 75,000 tons of bio-diesel is derived from soya, rape and palm oil. Two million tons would be required annually to meet the five percent target, the paper added.