All posts by Penny Hall

Biofuels Discussion – The views of the Cambridge parliamentary candidates

I have recently been in touch with some of the Cambridge parliamentary candidates to ask their views on biofuels. The Green Party policy on biofuels is very clear and robust and amongst other things “calls for an immediate moratorium on agrofuels from largescale monocultures” (point C6 at The Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative parties do not have a written policy on biofuels and it seems important that this pressing issue is brought to their attention and their views are made available to voters. I have written to the candidates from these parties and the Green party to ask their views.

A recent post to this site gives a thorough analysis of the problems with biofuels.

I became concerned about the views on biofuels of Tony Juniper, the Cambridge Green party candidate, when I heard him speak in a radio interview at in which, when challenged on the EU biofuel targets, was rather ambivalent and said that he thinks
that “biofuels is a part of the equation”. This prompted me to write to him to ask for confirmation that he is in full agreement with the views stated in the Green Party policy, and was disappointed to discover that this is not the case. He gave the following response:

“I am very familar with these issues, not least through my many years working as the Vice Chair of Friends of the Earth International. With this in mind the Green Party policy on this subject accords very closely with my own views. I might have one or two questions, however, for example in relation to sugar cane, that I believe can actually be quite good in achieving a useful carbon reduction, if done right. Of course this needs to include in relation to land use and food growing and also labour issues. Finally, I think we should say more about what fuel sources might work in the future in meeting the massive human need for energy that is not going to go away. A look at so called second and third generation biofuels would be illuminating in setting out what technologies we think might be acceptable, as well as those that we are sceptical about.”

Sugar cane plantations have had a devastating effect on Brazil’s Cerrado and it seems to me that Tony Juniper’s belief that sugar cane can be a good option does not actually “accord very closely” with the Green Party Policy which specifically includes sugar cane as part of the problem. (point CC252 I have asked him for the information on which he bases his view that sugar cane “can be quite good”.

The second area in which his view differs with Green Party policy is to do with second and third generation biofuels (CC254). The following articles give a convincing presentation of the problems with these:

The view supported by several of the NGOs mentioned below is that there is no such thing as ‘sustainable’ industrial biofuels. All will destroy natural habitats either directly or indirectly by displacing farmers from agricultural land. All involve the use of agrochemicals with toxic by products, heavy water use and soil erosion. In the light of this, I would like to hear exactly what kind of large-scale biofuel could possibly be “quite good”; the caveat used (“in relation to land use and food growing and also labour issues”) clearly needs to be fully explained.

It is worrying that biofuel proponents have been so successful that there are now government policy incentives in place whereby burning biofuel in power stations attracts twice the subsidies compared to on-land wind power generation. George Monbiot makes this point here.

With over a billion people in the world going hungry, it seems to me morally indefensible to use land to grow crops to power our vehicles rather than to feed hungry people.

When contacting the other parties, since they do not have a policy on biofuels, I quoted the Green Party Policy and asked whether they are in agreement with this. I have received the following response from Julian Huppert the Liberal Democrat candidate.

“I think there are real concerns about trying to develop wide-scale biofuels for exactly the reasons described. We would firstly ensure that the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) only permits sustainable biofuels as required by the EU 2009 Directive on the Promotion of Renewable Energy Sources and includes a calculation taking into account the effects of indirect land use change, and secondly aim to ensure that energy is supplied by more renewable and less damaging alternatives.”

I have raised the following points with him (based on information from the NGOs mentioned below).

1. The RTFO, and soon the European Directive (RED) are licensing all biofuels with false sustainability standards, and this applies to all large scale biofuels, even those made from Brazilian sugar cane. This is exactly what the problem is about and the Green Party policy gives examples of biofuels (including even rapeseed oil from Europe) which have a knock on impact on deforestation elsewhere in the world.,

2. The calculation to compensate for indirect land use change (ILUC) is completely inadequate. It allows just a few percent compensation as part of a “risk adder” when ILUC causes additional emissions of thousands of percent.

3. Both the RTFO and the RED make no inclusions for their wider ecological footprint including biodiversity losses and the attendant acceleration of climate feedbacks as ecosystems are systematically wiped out.

4. Both directives allow biofuels from countries where human rights abuses and land grabs are commonplace…i.e. even the safeguard against human rights abuses in both directorates is absent or entirely inadequate.

5. Currently it is illegal for the UK to have different “sustainability standards” from the EU: we need a new Government who has the courage to challenge this.

6. Also under EU rules, it is illegal to “discriminate” against particular biofuels for example because people have been evicted or even killed to produce them; (there are no adequate safeguards – even minimal additional safeguards are illegal)

7. Under EU rules, it is also illegal to “discriminate” against biofuels which can be shown to cause people to go hungry.

8. Although a final decision is still pending, the European Commission has proposed to class oil palm plantations as forests! So if natural forests are cut down for oil palm plantations, this is not classed as deforestation! Hence palm oil can still be classed as “sustainable”!!

9. Ironically there is actually no requirement on the UK to keep the RTFO in place and no renewable energy target for transport applies BEFORE 2020. This means that the UK or any other EU member government who is concerned about the problems outlined above can simply withdraw. By 2020 the EU legislation may well have been changed in view of new and ongoing evidence about biofuel impacts as well as fast increasing public opposition so not meeting the 2020 10% targets would not be an issue.

10. There is also currently no requirement to support biofuels in the heat and power sector. The Renewable Heat Incentive associated with this will go through Parliament later in the year.

11. You may be interested to know that a number of Lib Dem councillors and Green Party members in Bristol and Portland are fighting hard against the biofuel power stations proposed by W4B, using some of the arguments cited here.

I should mention that I’m not an expert in this field and have gained this information from discussions and reports from the following organisations: Biofuelwatch, Action Aid, Friends of the Earth, Global Forest Coalition, and World Rainforest Movement

I am calling on concerned individuals to contribute their views to this discussion. I will post here all further responses that I receive from the candidates.