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Crop based biofuels should be phased out says CPS

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The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) is calling on Government to phase out the use of food crops in biofuels and accelerate the move to waste-based fuels in a new report published today.

The ‘Drop the Crops: Why the UK’s biofuels mandate needs reform’ report, written by CPS Energy and Environment researcher Dillon Smith, argues that the UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), introduced in 2008, needs to be urgently updated to boost food security and assist with our environmental objectives.

Despite the Russian invasion and the accompanying global food concerns, Ukraine was reportedly one of the top five countries supplying corn and other feedstocks for UK biofuels in 2022. The European Federation for Transport and Environment calculated that roughly 10,000 tonnes of wheat are turned into ethanol for use in cars every day. Meanwhile, the Green Alliance calculated that halting the use of crop-based bioethanol would provide enough surplus agricultural land to feed 3.5 million people every year.

The CPS also highlighted that the use of agricultural land to grow crops for biofuels results in the need to find other land for food, negatively impacting both the environmental benefits and food prices.

The main recommendations in the report are:

  • The Government should phase out crops entirely from the RTFO as soon as practically possible. At a minimum this should be by 2030, but ideally sooner.
  • The UK should work with our allies and partners to come to a common consensus on winding down crop-based biofuels to boost global food security, particularly in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • The UK must ensure robust verification and monitoring of waste-based feedstocks (in particular Used Cooking Oil) and should consider rigorous database tracking.
  • The UK should revisit the main RTFO targets in light of our proposed phase-down of crop-based biofuels.

Dillon Smith, CPS Energy and Environment Researcher, said:

‘The UK government has taken steps to shift our biofuels away from crop feedstocks and towards waste, but we urge them to accelerate the process.

‘With concerns around food security and inflation, as well as the wider discussion of the sustainability of biomass energy, it is difficult to reconcile the use of crops, and land used to grow them, going to biofuels instead of food. Reforming the biofuels mandate and accelerating the move to waste-based fuels will be better for the environment and allow farmers to use their land for other purposes – whether that be food crops or other environmental measures.’

Martin Lines, UK Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said:

‘This report provides a valuable critique of the RTFO and questions its suitability in reducing transport emissions without delivering unintended consequences at home and abroad. What’s clear throughout is the need for reform to ensure that agricultural land is used well to secure genuine climate benefits, build long term food security and deliver biodiversity gain. We welcome this important contribution to the debate.’

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