Agricultural Bulletin - A Briefing For Farmers And Land Agents. Good For The Environment?


With the start date of the RTFO just around the corner, the environmental impact of biofuels has come under the spotlight.

In April 2008, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) kicks into action. It aims to encourage mineral-oil fuel companies to incorporate biofuels into their road fuel sales.

The RTFO's target starts at 2.5% by volume, rising to 5% by volume by 2010/11. However, fuel companies are unlikely to blend this amount of biofuel into their petrol and diesel. As with the renewables obligation in the electricity sector, the closer a company gets to meeting the target, the lower the penalty per litre for missing it. On this basis, fuel companies will probably incorporate 1-2% in the first year.

Should the RTFO reach its 2010/11 target, the total reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK would be less than 0.5%*. This means that for a 10 mile car journey, the impact is equivalent to parking 300 metres from the destination and walking the rest of the way.

Biofuels have provided a price bonanza for arable farmers since harvest and look likely to continue bolstering the grain and oilseed markets for a few years. But UK and European government policies are based on their reputed environmental credentials, not their impact on arable farmers' income.

Various key people and organisations have recently made announcements about the environmental impact of biofuels. None of these is entirely negative, but they all highlight how the credentials of different fuels vary wildly.

The Royal Society, the UK's leading scientific agency, agrees that biofuels can potentially contribute towards tackling the issues of greenhouse gas emissions. However, it noted that some fuels are more effective at this than others. New technologies should be accelerated and the Government should introduce policies that provide direct incentives for investing in the most efficient biofuels.

Stavros Dimas, European environment commissioner, acknowledged that it would be better for the European Union (EU) to miss its targets on the incorporation of biofuels into road transport fuel than to achieve them and harm the environment further. Mr Dimas suggested a clampdown on biodiesel produced from Indonesian palm oil and other areas where forests are being removed in favour of plantations. But the EU should continue to encourage any biofuels that could be proven to reduce environment, either directly or indirectly. This suggests that farmers supplying biofuel facilities would have to complete an audit trail and submit it with their tonnage.

The Commons Environmental Audit Committee made similar comments, stating that biofuels should be employed within an appropriate regulatory framework, using the technology with the best environmental credentials.

Since these announcements, the Renewable Fuels Agency (the Government body set up to...

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