Demand for green fuels contributing to climate change

Demand for "green" fuels which aim to cut emissions from transport is contributing to climate change, destroying habitats and pushing wildlife towards extinction, conservationists have claimed.

The concerns were raised as the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) comes into force today, requiring all petrol and diesel sold on the forecourt to consist of 2.5 per cent biofuels, rising to 5 per cent by 2010.

The idea behind the obligation is to reduce the climate change emissions from transport - which produces more than a quarter of overall greenhouse gases in the UK - through the use of renewables in place of fossil fuels.

The RSPB said forest clearance, use of fertilisers which produce greenhouse gas nitrous oxide and the energy used to convert crops to fuel and then transport them could all make the overall emissions of biofuels higher than their oil or diesel equivalents.

But farming leaders said different biofuel production systems had hugely different impacts on the environment, greenhouse gas emissions and whether they compete for land with food.

Sustainable biofuels grown in Britain from feed wheat that would otherwise be exported, or oilseed rape on set-aside land, could be produced in large enough quantities to meet the RTFO, National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said.

The RSPB said biofuel crops grown elsewhere around the world have already led to one Brazilian bird, the Alagoas curassow, becoming extinct as a result of forest being cleared for sugar cane plantations.

Many other species in South America, Malaysia, Indonesia and Africa are threatened by the demand for soya, palm oil and sugar cane for biofuels, according to the report.
And clearance of forests and savannah in these areas could release large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions, the RSPB said.

The study, A Cool Approach to Biofuels, urges the Government to switch from investment in the current set of biofuels to development of "second generation" renewable transport fuels which can be made from waste crops and are much more energy efficient.

It also calls for a moratorium on the RTFO and no further targets in Europe - where a 10 per cent goal for biofuel use by 2020 has been proposed - and policies to cut emissions from transport in sustainable ways.

Image: The Alagoas curassow, now officially classified as extinct in the wild

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