Biofuels, science and society conference

Explaining the role of sustainable biofuels in our wider transport strategy.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Norman Baker

Biofuels, science and society conference


Thanks for inviting me to participate in this morning’s conference. Even though I’m not with you in person I am pleased to be able to contribute to your discussions via this message.

I’d like to begin by explaining how I see the role of sustainable biofuels in our wider transport strategy.

Biofuels have a role to play in our efforts to tackle climate change, particularly where we cannot otherwise easily decarbonise, such as in aviation and HGVs. However, it is crucial that the biofuels used must be genuinely sustainable.

We took an important step towards that goal when we implemented the transport elements of the Renewable Energy Directive last December.

It is now a statutory requirement that biofuels must meet sustainability criteria to benefit from incentives.

We have also introduced double rewards for waste- derived biofuels and advanced biofuels, in recognition that these feedstocks are unlikely to compete with food production or contribute to indirect land use change.

Government is also minded to use the buy-out fund revenues to support the production of waste-derived or advanced biofuels and will look to introduce this mechanism to the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) in due course.

I am pleased that we have now seen the first biofuels meeting mandatory sustainability criteria coming through the system and these have been approved for Renewable Transport Fuel Certificates. We have worked closely with suppliers in making this significant step change and the RTFO Administrator will continue to ensure suppliers have the advice they need.

But we still need to ensure that indirect impacts of biofuel production are taken into account.

There is compelling evidence that shows that indirect land use change is a significant issue and action must be taken to ensure biofuel policy achieves significant carbon reductions.

This action must be taken by the European Union as a whole in order to be effective. I have repeatedly called on the Commission to urgently come forward with a proposal to address this issue.

I believe that the most robust solution would be to include emissions from indirect land use change in the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions – an approach commonly referred to as introducing “ILUC factors”. This is the only way in which the reported greenhouse gas savings will include the impacts of indirect emissions and record the amount of carbon that has been saved by moving away from fossil fuels.

I also recognise that not all biofuels will generate indirect impacts and our policies should encourage innovation and the development of the most sustainable feedstocks.

Biofuel producers that can demonstrate their product did not displace existing agricultural production, for example because they have brought degraded land back into sustainable production, should be exempt from ILUC factors.

This is the way that the biofuel industry must develop to have a sustainable future.

I want to ensure that we have a settled policy framework based on good scientific evidence.

We have listened to concerns about the social and environmental sustainability of biofuels. For example, we have not amended the targets set out in the current Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation. In planning longer term strategy we will continue to listen to concerns – both about the sustainability of biofuels and about constraints on their deployment.

As mentioned earlier we are interested in the potential to use biofuels in sectors where at present there are limited options to decarbonise such as in aviation and HGVs. As an example, I recognise the importance of biomethane made from waste as a sustainable renewable transport fuel, particularly in the heavy goods vehicle sector.

There are real market barriers to uptake of low emission heavy goods vehicle technologies such as hybrid, electric and gas. The government is therefore making available £9.5 million capital funding to pump prime procurement of low emission Heavy Goods Vehicle technologies and their supporting infrastructure. This includes targeted funding for public refuelling infrastructure, as well as funding for low carbon vehicles such as gas and dual fuel trucks. A competition was launched by the Technology Strategy Board on 8 March.

However, biofuels are just one part of a wider strategy to encourage growth and cut carbon. For example, we are also committed to supporting the uptake of ultra low carbon vehicles in the United Kingdom.

£400 million has been made available for consumer incentives to purchase plug-in vehicles, a programme to support recharging infrastructure and targeted research, development and demonstration projects.

In June last year, we published a comprehensive electric vehicle recharging infrastructure strategy that sets out how we are ensuring that plug-in vehicles are an attractive choice for the motorist, how we are making it easier for individuals to charge their vehicles and making it easier for both the private and public sector to provide recharging infrastructure by removing regulatory barriers.

Hydrogen is also recognised as one of the portfolio of potential solutions required for the decarbonisation of road transport. Earlier this year we announced the launch of a joint industry-government initiative – UK Hydrogen Mobility – which will evaluate the potential for hydrogen as a transport fuel in the UK and how to make it a realistic proposition for consumers.

To conclude, we are taking the same approach to biofuels as we are to sustainability in general -by providing clarity, by ensuring choice, by encouraging co-operation. In this way I believe we can change the environment and bring people with us in embracing future sustainable technologies in transport.

I am confident that we have made significant progress towards ensuring that biofuels used in the UK are sustainable. The progress made to date has only been achieved by working closely with suppliers, and listening to concerns raised about the social and environmental sustainability of biofuels.

This continued dialogue is essential not just in respect of biofuels policy but across our transport strategy. Because to be successful we need to change behaviour and provide genuinely sustainable transport.

The sustainability credentials of biofuels are rightly subject to close public scrutiny. To get the best result for the consumer, the environment and the taxpayer we need to work closely with industry in addressing barriers to supplying sustainable biofuel in the transport sector.

This all means that we have to listen and share lessons learnt. Providing the space to do that is one of the benefits of conferences such as this. I hope you have a productive and enjoyable 2 days.

Published 27 March 2012