UK gov't wants a better understanding of biofuels' indirect impacts

Want to know more about the effects of biofuels on the environment, especially all those indirect effects, the ones that aren't obvious and somewhat hard to calculate? Well, so does the UK's Department for Transport , which has asked the UK's Renewable Fuels Agency to prepare a report on this topic by summer. Once the DfT's Ruth Kelly has seen and studied the report, the department will help the government figure out how best to plot out the EU and UK's biofuel goals in the next decade. The call for a study to better understand the impacts was made following recent reports in Science that questioned just how good biofuels are for the environment. More after the jump.
Department for Transport (National)

(DFT) Kelly announces review of indirect impacts of biofuel production

Ruth Kelly has today invited the UK's newly established Renewable Fuels Agency to lead a study of the wider economic and environmental impacts - particularly the indirect impacts - of different forms of biofuel production.

The results of the study will help inform the development of both the UK and EU's policies in this area, and will underpin the consideration of EU biofuel targets after 2010.

Announcing the review, Ruth Kelly said:
"Biofuels have the potential to help reduce the impact of transport on the environment, provided they are sustainable. That is why we are introducing the new Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation in April. The RTFO will allow us to gather a wealth of data on the impacts of biofuels, which we will take into account in determining future levels of support for biofuels.

"However, future biofuel targets must also take into account the latest scientific evidence about the environmental effects of biofuel production. There has been much recent debate around the risks associated with overly rapid expansion of biofuel production, with evidence now emerging on the indirect, or "displacement" impacts, of growing demand for agricultural production around the world.

"The UK Government takes this issue very seriously. We are not prepared to go beyond current UK target levels for biofuels until we are satisfied it can be done sustainably. The Review I am announcing today will ensure that the full economic and environmental impacts of biofuel production are taken into account in the formation of UK policy beyond 2010."

Notes to Editors

1. The Renewable Fuels Agency is a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) which has been established to administer the Government's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) and to report to Ministers and to Parliament on its impacts. The RFA has a Board of Directors under the chairmanship of Professor Ed Gallagher, formerly the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency. Details via
2. The RTFO has at its heart a detailed reporting mechanism to encourage the use of sustainable biofuels. Transport fuel suppliers are required to submit a report on the environmental impacts of the biofuels in order to receive any credit for them under the RTFO. This mechanism has been developed over the last 18 months with experts and other stakeholders from the oil and biofuels industries as well as from environmental NGOs, and it was the subject of a detailed public consultation in the summer of 2007 (details at
3. A number of new research papers have come out in recent weeks and months (including in particular a recent article in Science magazine "Use of US croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gas emissions through emissions from land use change") which suggest that the indirect impacts of biofuel production have not always been taken into account in earlier carbon saving calculations.
4. The Government intends that the study will take account of recent international research and will involve a wide range of experts from the UK, EU and elsewhere. It will provide robust analysis and evidence to inform the debate on the wider sustainability of biofuels.
5. The review will also build on the survey of the scientific evidence on the environmental impacts of biofuels commissioned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is due to be published shortly. It will be peer-reviewed by the Government's Chief Scientific Advisers.

Initial analysis will be provided to Ruth Kelly and Hilary Benn by early summer.

[Source: DfT]

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