So, today the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) comes into effect and we'll all be using more biofuels as a result. Regular readers will know that this exciting piece of legislation will see 2.5 per cent of our petrol and diesel coming from food crops, and that we have been asking everyone to send emails to transport secretary Ruth Kelly asking her to postpone the RTFO. Now we need to see that she abandons so if you haven't expressed your concern about this already, you can still do so.
Together with other concerned organisations like Oxfam, Cafod and Friends of the Earth, we also sent her a letter and last week we got a response. In it, she states that "biofuels have never been seen as the only or main way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector". Kelly also mentions that she is lobbying at an EU level (it was the EU that set these targets in the first place) to agree that biofuel policies should reduce greenhouse gas emissions; she goes on to say that targets "must be set at the appropriate level, taking into account the indirect impacts of biofuels, and must be revised if they cannot be met in a sustainable or cost-effective manner".
Already, alarm bells are ringing. If all these things are so important, why are there no sustainability standards already in place in this country? Kelly also says that as part of the RTFO, detailed information will be available about the impacts of the biofuels we're using, "such as which feedstocks [crops] have been used, where they were produced and whether environmental and social standards have been met." Apart from the fact that again no such standards exist, suppliers will be perfectly within their rights to say fill in 'unknown' on the forms and they will have complied with the reporting requirements. And compared to the mandatory standards that should be in place, merely having to report on where biofuels come from is not going to prevent the kind of environmental destruction that's happening in places like Indonesia.
Any confidence in the ability of companies to competently monitor their fuel mix and its various sources is decidedly low. For example, as reported in yesterday's edition of the Times, we tested a sample of diesel from a branch of Tesco in Edmonton and the results showed that 30 per cent of the biofuel it contained was palm oil. Tesco had said earlier it didn't use palm oil in its fuel but was forced to change its tune when presented with our findings. (Interestingly, they blamed their supplier, Greenergy, in which Tesco has a 25 per cent stake.)
The RTFO might be here, but that doesn't mean we're giving up. Along with other interested parties such as Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, Cafod and the RSPB, we're going to keep pushing the government to abandon biofuel targets until they've produced a stringent set of environmental and social standards that fuel suppliers have to abide by. As well as that, you can also still send Ruth Kelly an email, demanding exactly the same thing.