July 8, 2008

Gordon Brown Warns G8 About Biofuels

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently commissioned a survey from Professor Ed Gallagher, former chief of the Environment Agency and now head of the Renewable Fuels Agency. Prof. Gallagher was asked to investigate the effect of biofuels on food prices and on the environment in general.

The Guardian recorded a podcast on the Gallagher report before it was released, which gives a useful overview of the issues involved:

The report has now been published, and concludes amongst other things :

That there is a future for a sustainable biofuels industry but that feedstock production must avoid agricultural land that would otherwise be used for food production. This is because the displacement of existing agricultural production, due to biofuel demand, is accelerating land-use change and, if left unchecked, will reduce biodiversity and may even cause greenhouse gas emissions rather than savings. The introduction of biofuels should be significantly slowed until adequate controls to address displacement effects are implemented and are demonstrated to be effective.

And that:

Increasing demand for biofuels contributes to rising prices for some commodities, notably for oil seeds, but that the scale of their effects is complex and uncertain to model. In the longer term higher prices will have a net small but detrimental effect on the poor that may be significant in specific locations. Shorter-term effects on the poor are likely to be significantly greater and require interventions by governments to alleviate effects upon the most vulnerable.

It seems Mr. Brown intends to pass this message on to other World leaders. According to the Financial Times:

When Gordon Brown meets his fellow Group of Eight leaders in Japan, he can tell them he is taking action to slow the growth of biofuels production. But the problem with a slowdown in biofuels is that it raises the question of what else the world is going to run its cars on. The answers are not reassuring.

“Second-generation” biofuels, made from plant waste such as straw, or from crops that do not compete with food production such as algae, are the great hope for the future. In spite of huge interest and growth in investment, second generation biofuels have yet to pay-off commercially

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