Azara Blog: The UK middle class do not like biofuels

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Date published: 2011/04/14

The BBC says:

EU biofuels targets are unethical, according to a report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Its authors recommend the targets should be lifted temporarily until new safeguards are put in place for biofuels grown in Europe or imported.

But they stop short of calling for a complete halt to biofuels, which some environmentalists want.
Based on what it says is a set of ethical values which will be widely shared, the report says biofuels should:

These principles would be backed by a mandatory - and strictly enforced - EU certification scheme, a little like the Fairtrade scheme.

The authors rehearse a familiar list of complaints about current biofuel production: it strips biodiversity when forests or peatlands are cleared to grow fuel crops; current biofuels produce too little energy; biofuels are imported from countries which often have low environmental standards; biofuels compete with food crops and contribute to pushing up food prices.
Kenneth Richter, Friends of the Earth's biofuels campaigner, told BBC News: "The Government must simply scrap biofuel targets and instead focus on greener cars and improved public transport, fast and affordable rail services, and incentives to get people cycling and walking."

Robert Palgrave from the Biofuelwatch campaign was scathing about the Council's conviction that certification would guarantee that agricultural land would not be swallowed by biofuels.

He told BBC News: "We have serious concerns that an Indirect Land-Use Factor, far from being a step towards stopping agrofuel use in the EU could potentially make things even worse.

"There is no scientific credible way of calculating the full climate impacts of agrofuels. Indirect impacts are not just about 'hectare for hectare' displacement; they are also about the interaction between land prices and speculation, about the impacts of roads, ports and other infrastructure on forests, about policy changes which affect land rights, about scarcely-understood interactions between biodiversity, ecosystems and the climate."

This Nuffield study is a bit too academic middle class for comfort, although it mostly makes sense. On the other hand, the reaction from the NGOs is typically silly.

Richter, from the Friends of the Earth, talks typical FoE nonsense. In particular, "improved public transport, fast and affordable rail services" is exactly the kind of policy that is backwards. What he wants is for people who take so-called public transport (which for some reason includes buses and trains, but not planes, as far as the the chattering classes are concerned) to be able to externalise a huge fraction of the cost of their journey on the rest of society. For example, with trains it is currently at around 50 percent in the UK. This kind of ridiculous subsidy is no different than subsidising biofuels by ignoring their environmental impact. Similarly, there should be no "incentives to get people cycling and walking", that is just the same issue, although on a much smaller scale.

And although Palgrave, from Biofuelwatch, is not quite so silly, if he really believes that "there is no scientific credible way of calculating the full climate impacts of agrofuels" then he might as well just say that the world should stop while he gets off. If there is no way to calculate environmental impact then there is every argument to say that something should be allowed just as much as that it should not be allowed. What he is in effect saying is that because he does not like biofuels they should not be allowed.

What the UK could do with is a better, more clued up, class of environmentalists.

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