As environmentalists, we are suckers for anything with “bio” or “eco” in their name. But a new Department for Transport (DfT) report has found that using fossil fuels in vehicles does less harm to the environment than “green” fuels made from crops. The current DfT targets to increase the level of biofuels in all fuel sold in Britain will lead to millions of acres of forest being burnt down or logged and converted to plantations, the report says. It concludes that some of the most commonly-used biofuel crops fail to meet the minimum sustainability standard set by the European Commission. The report may force a review of the target.
Under the EC standard, each litre of biofuel should reduce emissions by at least 35 per cent compared with burning a litre of pure fossil fuel. Yet palm oil increases emissions by 31 per cent because of the carbon released when forest and grassland is turned into plantations. Rape seed and soy also fail to meet the standard.
Biofuels still release CO2 on combustion but were thought to be sustainable as the crop would absorb CO2 as it grew. But opponents have long pointed out the danger of converting indigenous flora to profitable crop plantation. Biofuel expansion also raises the ugly possibility of poor countries growing biofuels for the transport needs of the rich at the expense of food needs.
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