The Renewable Fuels Agency (a U.K. group) released the so-called Gallagher review on July 7, a report assessing the “indirect effects” of greater biofuels production. The report was requested by the British government.

Ed Gallagher, chair of the Renewable Fuels Agency, laid out the report’s conclusions:

At this stage more caution and discrimination are needed. With little sign of the developed countries losing their appetite for travel and millions of new motorists expected in rapidly developing countries such as India, China, Russia and elsewhere, better fuels are needed, along with other well documented measures. We cannot afford to abandon biofuels as part of a low carbon transport future. Equally, we cannot continue producing biofuels which are ultimately more environmentally and socially damaging than the fossil fuels they seek to replace.

Other conclusions:

  • There is a future for a sustainable biofuels industry but feedstock production must avoid agricultural land that would otherwise be used for food production. This is because the displacement of existing agricultural production, due to biofuel demand, is accelerating land-use change and, if left unchecked, will reduce biodiversity and may even cause greenhouse gas emissions rather than savings.
  • The risks of indirect effects can be significantly reduced by ensuring that the production of feedstock for biofuels takes place on idle and marginal land and by encouraging technologies that utilize appropriate wastes and residues.
  • At present, feedstock for biofuel occupies just 1% of cropland but the rising world population, changing diets, and demand for biofuels are estimated to increase demand for cropland by between 17% and 44% by 2020. However, the balance of evidence indicates there will be sufficient appropriate land available to 2020 to meet this demand.
  • Increasing demand for biofuels contributes to rising prices for some commodities, notably for oil seeds, but the scale of their effects is complex and uncertain to model.

To read the executive summary go here. To read the entire report go here.

The British government responded to the report before Parliament; the responding minister noting that “Professor Gallagher’s findings are particularly significant in the context of ongoing debates about biofuel targets across the EU.”

Power Politics

July 8, 2008