"We appreciate the difficulties in applying firm ethical principles in the real world, but existing biofuels policy is failing. We can set the standard in Europe and encourage the rest of the world to follow suit. This is a global problem that needs a global solution."
The two main transport biofuels currently in use are bioethanol, made from maize and sugar cane, and biodiesel, made from palm and rape seed oil. The European Renewable Energy Directive states that 10% of transport fuel must come from renewable sources by 2020. In the UK, 5% of transport fuel must come from renewable sources by 2013. To meet these targets, biofuels are being imported from countries that do not all have responsible or enforceable policies on climate change or human rights. The targets also rely on voluntary agreements on environmental sustainability for biofuels produced outside the EU.
Researchers are developing technologies that enable all of the plant to be used in biofuel production, meaning less waste and higher energy outputs. Another avenue of research is using algae to produce biofuels that do not compete for agricultural land, but this is mostly at the experimental stage.
"There is a duty to develop biofuels that comply with our ethical principles," said Professor Tait. "Governments should incentivise the development of new types of biofuels that need less land and produce fewer greenhouse gases, for example by creating research funding programmes or encouraging public-private partnerships."
The wider picture
"Tackling climate change whilst providing energy and fuel for a growing global population presents us with a formidable challenge," said Professor Tait. "W
|Contact: Catherine Joynson|
Nuffield Council on Bioethics