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Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation Starts Today

The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) comes into force today (15 April), requiring 2.5% of all road fuels sold to come from biofuels, rising to 5% by 2010. It’s claimed that this will save 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2010 and is part of a package of measures being taken to reduce the impact of transport on the environment – although some critics claim that biofuels can cause more harm than good, and so a review into biofuels is also underway.

Because of the hot debate around biofuels, suppliers are required to produce sustainability reports including information on where their biofuel crops come from and the level of carbon savings they will achieve. The Renewable Fuels Agency, administrators of RTFO, will publish these reports and compare the performance of transport fuel suppliers. However, note that at the moment it’s just reports that are required – there is, as yet, no requirement to meet any strict sustainability standards – but the aim is to do this by 2011.

Note also that transport fuel suppliers can either comply with the RTFO by supplying the relevant amount of biofuel themselves, or they can purchase certificates from another transport, or pay a ‘buy out’ price in respect of some or all of their obligation.

A review into the indirect impacts of biofuels has already been announced by Ruth Kelly to ensure that the full economic and environmental impacts of biofuel production are taken into account in the formation of UK policy beyond 2010.

Transport Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: “Making it easier for motorists to use greener fuel is an important step towards reducing carbon emissions from transport. It should help save millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide in the coming years.

“But we must do all we can to ensure biofuels are produced sustainably. We know people are concerned about the environmental risks associated with expanding biofuel production and we take those concerns very seriously.

“That is why we want to introduce mandatory standards as soon as possible to guarantee that biofuels don’t cause deforestation or food shortages and we are leading international work to do this. In the meantime, we require suppliers to produce sustainability reports, providing an immediate incentive for them to source biofuels responsibly.”

Phil Woolas, Minister for the Environment said: “Emissions from transport need to go down if we are to make serious headway in tackling dangerous climate change and this initiative has the potential to deliver considerable carbon savings.

“Obviously sustainability needs to be at the heart of all biofuel production and it will remain at the forefront of all policy development in this area. We must be able to produce biofuel without causing a negative impact on our natural environment.”

The Government has recently published a body of research as a contribution to the debate on the wider sustainability impacts of biofuels.

One of these pieces of research is a review of work on the environmental sustainability of international biofuels production and use, commissioned by Defra, is an appraisal of the current evidence of the opportunities and threats from biofuel production.

This study was commissioned by Defra and identifies risks and opportunities from biofuel crops. It highlights that some biofuel crops can usefully be cultivated on marginal or degraded land. However, it is important that the right crops are used in the right circumstances. It also shows concerns that the push to meet biofuels targets rapidly will result in planting on good quality land or the use of significant agrochemical inputs to achieve high yields, with the loss of the opportunity to improve marginal or degraded land. The report highlights the need for further work to evaluate the indirect impacts of biofuel production in meeting future and existing targets.