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On 21 January 2008 the UK Government's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published its report …

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The way forward
- Are biofuels sustainable? The EU perspective

A more defensible conclusion from consideration of the EAC's evidence under review might be to propose a moratorium on EU imports of biofuels and certain feedstocks, whilst maintaining proportionate and long-term binding targets for biofuels produced in Europe. Europe's nascent biofuel industry might then provide a commercial environment capable of supporting development and implementation of the necessary technology and regulation for a truly sustainable European biofuel industry.

The obstacle to such an approach is that it is open to challenge by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and by potential biofuel-exporting nations as 'green protectionism'. Any sustainability criteria must therefore apply equally to European producers and to overseas producers wishing to export feedstocks or biofuels to the EU market. This, as it happens, is precisely what the EU intends to do. On 23 January 2008 shortly after the EAC's report, the European Commission published its proposal for a directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources [26] that sides firmly with the conclusions of the Royal Society. This proposal, if adopted, will supersede the 2003 Biofuels Directive and introduce a 10% binding target for biofuels by energy content for all member states by 2020. Only those biofuels that meet a range of sustainability criteria and achieve a 35% minimum greenhouse gas saving (including the impact of land use change) will count towards this target. To encourage more efficient biofuel technology development, cellulosic and waste-based biofuels will count towards a country's overall target twice. The clarity, binding nature and long-term framework for sustainable growth set out in this proposal have received the backing of many of the leading players in the EU's biofuel industry. The EU proposal has the merits of providing a policy framework that will stimulate industrial innovation, whilst differentially rewarding those technologies and producers that most effectively address the valid sustainability concerns raised by many observers of the global biofuels industry today.

The UK Government relies on good scientific advice to help formulate policy that best meets the challenges anticipated in an uncertain future. As we enter final few decades of oil, UK, EU and international policy will influence the rate at which remaining reserves are consumed, what alternatives will be used in their place and how costly the transition will be: socially, economically and environmentally. 'Wait and see' is not good enough. What the EAC is proposing is neither precautionary nor progressive, but is based on emotive and flawed arguments that, whilst delivered with conviction, are supported neither by the evidence considered nor by the broader scientific and economic data available.

The UK Government should set the EAC's report aside and back the EU proposal.

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