Shift biofuel subsidies into REDD: Report


Carbon Positive; 28 August 2008
Developed country governments should re-direct biofuel subsidies toward preventing deforestation for a far better climate outcome, a UK think-tank claims. Policy Edge has produced analysis suggesting that doing so would produce far greater savings in greenhouse gas emissions for every dollar spent on climate change mitigation.

In a report, The Root of the Matter, the right-leaning think-tank says the 550 million pounds in fuel excise revenue that stands to be lost by the UK government each year under the Renewable Fuels Transport Obligation (RTFO) could produce 50 times the emissions savings if it was spent on conserving tropical rainforest and peatland. These are being cleared at alarming rates in developing countries every year and are estimated to contribute up to 20 per cent of total worldwide human-related greenhouse gas emissions.

The report’s emissions savings claims hang on data that shows the minimum cost of reducing greenhouse emissions from the RTFO is $133 per tonne of CO2, compared with just $3 per tonne from avoided deforestation action and as little as 10 cents a tonne from avoided tropical peatland destruction.

The RTFO requires 5 per cent of all transport fuels sold at UK petrol stations to come from renewable sources by 2010, estimated to save up to 3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, although the government is considering pushing back the deadline by three years.

Echoing recent concerns about sustainability, the report also points to more direct negative impacts of the promotion of biofuels, saying the rush to rewewable sources is exacerbating deforestation and peatland draining as more land gets cleared for cultivation of biofuel crops.

Biofuels targets “should be suspended until second-generation biofuels are tested and shown to provide net emission reductions without directly or indirectly causing deforestation”, the report says.

The report puts worldwide biofuel subsidies at $US15 billion a year, the same figure that Sir Nicholas Stern said should be spent on avoided deforestation – an amount that would halve the annual rate of loss, he said. The report recommends that forest monitoring capacity in developing countries be funded in order that carbon market mechanisms be established around avoided deforestation and boosted for reforestation.

In an industry response, John Seymour, from UK consortium North East Biofuels, said that the impact of biofuels uptake on peatland clearing was being overstated in the sustainability debate. The amount of imported palm oil coming from places like Indonesia and used for biofuels is actually very small - the bulk of it ends up as vegetable oil for use in cooking, he told New Energy Focus.