Biofuels could be doubling carbon emissions

Posted: 21 April 2009

Biofuels could have doubled the carbon dioxide emissions of the fossil fuels they replace - equivalent to putting half a million extra cars on the road - since a new law adding them to UK fuel came in a year ago, new research shows.

Conservative estimates show the biofuels obligation, which came into force in April 2008, could have caused 1.3 million tonnes of extra carbon dioxide emissions. The new figures come in the same week that the UK Government increased the amount of biofuels in petrol and diesel from 2.5 to 3.3 per cent.

The independent study for Friends of the Earth estimates how much forest is being cut down to replace food crops that have been displaced in order to grow biofuels for the UK - a figure currently omitted in Government statistics.

It reveals that when the full impact of deforestation is taken into account,biofuels added to UK petrol and diesel may be producing more than twice the carbon dioxide of the fossil fuels they replace.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to suspend the biofuels obligation until Ministers can be sure it is saving carbon dioxide emissions - not increasing them. The environmental group says the Government should focus instead on creating a first-class public transport system, reducing the number of car journeys, and encouraging people to use smarter cars that use less fuel.

'Sums wrong'

FOE Executive Director Andy Atkins said: "Until Ministers can do their sums properly and prove that growing crops for fuel actually cuts carbon - the Government should stop biofuels being added to UK petrol and diesel.

"Trying to cut emissions by adding biofuels to petrol is like trying to cut down on beer by lacing your pints with vodka.

"Investing in first class public transport is a much better way to reduce emissions on our roads.One year on, it's clear the biofuels obligation is a failure."

Note: Government Ministers say the policy of requring motorists to use petrol or deisel fuel with added biofuel, will save two and half million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the roads. But according to the new figures, soy crops from the US, Argentina and Brazil, used in the most common biodiesels sold in the UK, could be causing 3 times more emissions than conventional fossil fuels. Even biofuels grown on farmland in the UK are contributing to the problem by pushing aside other crops and adding to the pressure on carbon-rich rainforests in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil.