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August 8, 2008 / Mridul

Accountibilty, Quality Issues Raise Questions About Effectiveness Of Biofuels In Britain

View of palm oil plantation in Bogor, Indonesia

View of palm oil plantation in Bogor, Indonesia

Amidst the worsening food crisis and widespread poverty nations around the world continue to back biofuels as the replacement of fossil fuels. Even after a World Bank report blamed excessive biofuel production for the skyrocketing food prices the producer and importer countries seem unwilling to reform their production and usage methods. The European Union continues to overlook the concerns made by several of its member countries which have voiced concerns about the environmental effects of biofuel production and has so far refused to suspend or rethink its renewable energy goal which aims to include 10% biofuel in transport fuel by 2020. The producers too are dodging global criticism and forging biofuel deals across the world as they seek to take advantage of the rising demand.

But while setting goals for use of clean fuels is a good thing failing to take steps to prevent deforestation and other environmental catastrophes is bad. And that ‘s what the many importers of biofuels are doing, Britain being one of them. A recent study by the Renewable Fuels Agency of Britain points out that merely 19% of the biofuel used in Britain meets the environmental standards and whose origins can be traced back to confirm that they were produced in a sustainable way while the rest 81% don’t fulfill the quality requirements or address the sustainability issues satisfactorily.

In addition, the government wants the suppliers to ensure that only 30% of the biofuels are produced in a sustainable manner however the suppliers aren’t bound to comply which brings the whole exercise of using biofuels to prevent environment degradation into serious questioning. Even more surprising is the fact that while admitting such appalling figures the British government has no intent of suspending its biofuels goals or voting against EU’s transport fuel requirements; it is only running a review of the environmental effects of biofuel production as if there was something left to review.

Environmental groups against the uncontrolled production and unaccountable biofuel sources have taken the British government to task demanding that laws regarding accountability must be strengthened otherwise the efforts to protect and conserve the environment would go void. Private companies too are facing the fury of environmental activists some of whom recently protested near a Vopak biofuel depot in Thurrock, Essex. The protesters voiced concerns about the widespread deforestation taking place in Brazil, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to make way land available for biofuel production. One of the protesters, said:

Agrofuels are destroying the very ecosystems which can stabilise the climate – with the collapse of the Amazon possibly just a few years away I am left with no choice but to take action.

What needed is an immediate suspension on biofuel imports which do not meet environmental standards and whose suppliers cannot ensure that they are being produced in a sustainable manner without adversely affecting the environment. Recently a Papua New Guninea based company New Britain Palm Oil company announced that it would open a refinery which would allow shoppers to know exactly where the palm oil they are buying comes from. Company’s CEO Nick Thompson said that,

The UK facility will also ensure that New Britain Palm Oil will be one of the first palm oil producers to offer customers the chance to order fully traceable, sustainable palm oil product.

Being consumers the EU member countries should demand similar measures from the suppliers from Brazil and Indonesia. Laws demanding complete transparency and traceability of the biofuels must be worked out and suppliers should be forced to follow them if they want to sell their produce. Biofuels can still prove to be a valuable asset in the fight against environmental pollution but only if production methods are reformed and the suppliers are made accountable.

Photo credit: a rabin (Creative Commons)


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