The renewable energy industry has urged the UK government to quickly implement rules to tackle unsustainable biofuel production after a new report found the growth of cultivated agricultural land for biofuels could lead to more than double the greenhouse gas emissions released by fossil fuels.
The study entitled Driving to Destruction was published today by a coalition of Non-governmental organisations, including ActionAid and Greenpeace. It argues that EU plans to boost biofuels will see an area of land twice the size of Belgium converted to agricultural use by 2020.
"Land conversion on such a scale will lead to the release of carbon emissions from vegetation and soil, making biofuels more damaging to the climate than the fossil fuels they are designed to replace," the report concluded.
Total net greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels could be as much as 56 million tonnes of extra carbon dioxide per year, it predicted, meaning that once land use impacts are included biofuels in the EU market would be on average 81 per cent to 167 per cent worse for the climate than fossil fuels.
The report's conclusions suggest that without urgent action to tackle unsustainable changes in land use the EU will fall well short of the target contained in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) that requires biofuels to be 35 to 50 per cent less polluting than fossil fuels.
The research is the latest in a series of studies arguing that many biofuels are indirectly contributing to deforestation and food shortages in developing countries.
Responding to the report, Renewable Energy Association (REA) chief executive Gaynor Hartnell argued that the UK biofuel producers were consistently delivering carbon savings of at least 70 per cent compared to fossil fuels by ensuring that they only use energy crops that have been grown in a sustainable manner.