It could be a day when the Group of Eight major economies of the world finally does something useful and reach agreement with China and India on emissions targets. It could also be a day when China and India, two major emitters from the developing world, join the rest of us. Or, it could be a day when the ambitious plans of Kevvie Rudd and his comrades in Canberra are blown up by the intransigence from China and India.
The G-8 leaders yesterday concluded what they presented as a breakthrough agreement on climate change, agreeing to a carbon emissions cut of “at least 50%” by 2050 and agreeing to the idea of mid-term reduction or stabilization targets. The offer will be taken today to the eight major developing countries — including China and India — with the aim of getting them to back the 2050 targets in return for promises of cash and technology.
A red letter day, or another disaster.
The G-8 summit has obscured what is a highly important move in Britain to slow on the headlong rush into biofuels: it’s a move that should be heeded here in Australia, especially in NSW and Queensland. A report urging restraint was tabled in the UK Parliament on Monday night, our time, and committed to by the British Government.
The decision was obviously aimed at helping UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, at the G-8, but despite that it’s a welcome move as it now puts pressure on Europe and the US to check their ambitious biofuel targets. In Australia it should be heeded by the desperate NSW and Queensland Governments and their absurd targets for increasing biofuel (ethanol for use in transport fuels).
A review commission by the US Government recommended that the government put the brakes on its biofuels policy. Here’s the report.
The current target is to get 2.5% of the UK’s transport fuel needs from biofuels this year, doubling by 2010. But in the report, Professor Ed Gallagher, a former head of the UK Environment Agency, said this should be slowed down, with the 2.5% set as a base, but raised by 0.5% a year to 2013-14. Those increases would have to be justified on the UK biofuels industry proving its “green credentials”.
In its introduction, the report says:
We have concluded 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.
A slowdown will also reduce the impact of biofuels on food commodity prices, notably oil seeds, which have a detrimental effect upon the poorest people.
The evidence gathered in this review does not provide assurance of the sustainability of any particular level of target and the creation of a sustainable biofuels industry cannot be assured.
The RFA (Renewable Fuels Agency) judgement, based upon the balance of evidence is that if all subsidies and other support for biofuels were removed entirely, this would reduce the capacity of the industry to respond to the challenges of transforming its supply chain and investing in advanced technologies.
However, the rate of introduction of biofuels should be slowed until adequate controls are established.
Ruth Kelly, Britain’s secretary of state for transport, told the UK Parliament on Monday: “I agree with Professor Gallagher that we should take a precautionary approach over the next few years, until we are clearer about their wider effects.”
She stopped short of accepting the report’s recommendations on a revision to the biofuels targets, but announced to MPs a consultation on lowering the targets.
The Gallagher report found that, although there was “probably” enough land to satisfy food and fuel demands to 2020, biofuels did make a small contribution to food price rises. Professor Gallagher also recommended that the European Union lower its proposed target of deriving 10% of transport fuel from biofuels by 2020. The review also recommended that a separate target be set for “second generation” biofuels, made from waste products such as straw.
The review found that biofuels would contribute about 15% to rises in the cost of grain in Europe by 2020, compared with 2006 prices, if current biofuels targets were followed through. It said the US would suffer similar price rises, although developing countries would see a smaller increase and the price of other staple crops such as rice would be unaffected.