The Department for Transport isn't committing to biofuels just yet

Asmana Alhassan

In a meeting with civil servants at the Department for Transport (DfT) last week, ActionAid was pleased to hear that the UK government won’t be committing to increasing the amount of biofuels in our petrol and diesel.

Instead, the government department will wait for the findings of a number of scientific studies that are due to be released later this year before holding a formal consultation and then making their decision as to whether to push ahead with this controversial fuel source.

The UK, like all other EU member states, must submit a National Action Plan to the European Commission by June outlining how it plans to ensure that 10 per cent of all fuel used for transport will come from renewable sources by 2020.

No new commitments to biofuels

Until the recent meeting, ActionAid had been concerned that the government would choose to meet the entire 10 per cent target with industrial biofuels. However, ActionAid now has it in writing that the UK’s National Action Plan “will not include any new commitments to increasing transport-related biofuel use in the UK”.

A major ActionAid report launched in February concluded that an additional 100 million people could be forced into hunger if UK and EU biofuel targets are allowed to go ahead. Report author Tim Rice said: “Biofuels are driving a global human tragedy. Local food prices have already risen massively. As biofuel production gains pace, this can only accelerate.

 “Poor people can spend as much as 80 per cent of their income on food. Even small increases in the price of staples such as maize and wheat mean that many more will become increasingly desperate.”

Continuing cause for concern

Despite the good news that the DfT are delaying their decision, ActionAid is still concerned that the government is not taking the link between biofuels and hunger seriously enough. A UK government study concluded that biofuels had not been a significant cause of the food price rises in 2007/8. This is in contrast to numerous other research which has found that industrial biofuels could have contributed to anywhere from 30-75 per cent of the global food crisis which pushed 30 million more people into hunger.

Meredith Alexander, Head of Trade and Corporates for ActionAid, said: “Almost all of the DfT’s concerns focus on how biofuels can have higher greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. That’s a vital argument; climate change will make it harder for farmers to feed themselves in the future.

But the government also needs to look at the impact of biofuels on hunger now. Every tiny one per cent increase in food prices forces an estimated 16 million extra people into hunger. In a world where one sixth of humanity is already going hungry, using land to grow fuel for cars instead of food for people is just plain wrong.”

ActionAid and its supporters will continue to campaign against industrial biofuels, demanding that the government doesn’t increase UK biofuel targets following the formal consultation that is planned for early 2011. A major review by the European Commission into the impact of EU biofuel policy on food prices is also set to take place in 2012. Campaigners hope that they can convince the DfT to hold off on their final decision until this has taken place and more information is available. 

photo : ©ActionAid.