LONDON (Reuters) - The country should pull back from policies promoting biofuels and resist attempts to increase European Union targets until safeguards are in place to protect the environment, a parliamentary committee said on Friday.
“Without standards for sustainability and safeguards to protect carbon sinks (such as forests) we believe policies that encourage demand for first generation biofuels are damaging,” a House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report said.
“We reiterate our case for a moratorium on policies aimed at increasing the use of biofuels and urge the Government to resist attempts to increase EU biofuel targets,” it added.
Biofuels are now mainly produced from food crops such as wheat, maize, sugar cane and vegetable oils.
They are seen by supporters as a way of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change and of boosting energy security at a time when mineral oil prices are rising to record levels.
Opponents, however, argue the growing use of land to produce biofuels has contributed to rising global food prices, leading to severe hardship and even riots in some developing countries.
They also believe an expansion of crops such as palm oil, which can be used to produce biofuels, has led to the destruction of rainforests in countries such as Indonesia.
The committee first called for a moratorium on increasing biofuels use in January. The government responded by arguing that initial targets were “ at an appropriately cautious level”.
The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation came into force on April 15. It requires suppliers of motor fuels to ensure a proportion — initially 2.5 percent and increasing to 5.0 percent by 2010 — comes from renewable sources.
The government also said a moratorium would mean missing out on an opportunity to make carbon savings now and reneging on commitments on which biofuels producers had made investments.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week, however, said Britain would push for changes in EU biofuels targets if a government review showed rising biofuels production driving up food prices and harming the environment.
Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union, rejected the committee’s conclusion.
“Biofuels represent the only practical renewable alternative for replacing fossil fuels in transport. Of course they must be produced sustainably, both at home and abroad, and of course we should be developing more efficient biofuel technologies,” Kendall said in a statement.
“But biofuels have never been presented as the only solution to climate change — they are part of a package of solutions needed to address a very serious problem ... Doing nothing is not an option,” he said.
Reporting by Nigel Hunt; editing by Chris Johnson