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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Are the conservatives now anti-biofuels?

There's a piece from a speech by Theresa Villiers on Con Home which certainly makes it sound like they are.

But isn't it just the same as the Government's policy, with a slightly different spin on?

Although we believe that biofuels can have a role to play in tackling climate change, there must be safeguards to ensure that they come from sustainable sources...

[The RTFO] has failed the environment because it contains no effective measures to guarantee that the biofuels it promotes come from sustainable sources."

Question: What are sustainable biofuels? The EU definition?

Remember the two basic problems:

1) It is estimated that up to 80-90 % of all the timber that comes out of Brazil and Indonesia are illegally logged, and biofuels are much harder to trace back to their origin. How will you find out if your biofuels are "sustainable"?

2) And what is "sustainable" anyway? If it just means not clearing virgin forest to plant biofuels what's to stop biofuels going on to agricultural land and the forest being hacked back to replace the land for food crops? Biofuels must inevitably compete for land, and drive up food prices, and therefore promote agricultural extensification one way or another.

T Villiers is very bright indeed. But the Tory line - although it's moving in the right direction- is still far too cautious.


CC said...

Nonsense - there's plenty of under-developed land in the world - just look at the amount of inefficient farming in places like Africa. Or France for that matter. Biofuels have the potential to offer a cash crop rich enough to justify the capital investment to make those sort of improvements. At the same time it removes our dependence on unstable middle-eastern countries for power.

It seems to me that too many of the critics of bio-fuels are simply climate change sceptics eager to say 'I told you so'. To do so misses the very real potential of these fuels - even ignoring CO2 emissions.

Open Europe blog team said...

What exactly are you saying...?

The production of biofuels is going to be the result of several factors, basically:

land + capital + available technology/techniques.

You think all the increased demand will be met purely by increased capital input spurring better techniques, and none of the response will flow through extensification, which has almost no financial cost in many countries?

What makes you think this?

Genuinely interested - not a rhetorical question.

CC said...

I think increased demand will spur increased production through both more efficient farming methods and by making more land available to be farmed, whether positively through more irrigation etc, or negatively through the grubbing up of forests etc.

Your equation is slightly misleading - both land and farming technology are essentially capital costs. As demand rises it pushes up the value of land, making the farming technology more comparatively affordable.

Obviously this isn't the whole story, things like cost of borrowing and stability of the local government have a very big part to play.

It would also help if the EU/US stopped dumping taxpayer subsidized crops into the marketplace in developing economies...

I guess what I'm saying is that, as food prices rise, which with a growing world population etc, they are likely to do, this grubbing up of forests etc will be a strong risk anyway. If it is to be avoided, it should be avoided in a much more holistic way than simply blaming bio-fuels.

This is particularly the case when those doing so seem to be sudden and unexpected converts to the cause of biodiversity (Ms Villiers?), or those green groups who loathed the cars long before global warming was seen as a threat.

Sorry this is a bit rambling, but I haven't really collected my thoughts entirely on this yet...

Open Europe blog team said...


Agree re dumping - tho of course then you get people like Arvind Panagariya who argue the opposite... See P335 of this monster document.


(we wrote the trade bit - warning: massive file)