Response to BBC article and Today programme06/03/2013
This morning there was an article by Roger Harrabin (BBC News) and a piece on BBC 4 Today’s programme on the role of biofuels, headlined that MPs are “due to decide on Wednesday whether to accept controversial plans for new subsidies to burn trees and plants in UK power stations”.
The first point we would like to make is that there was not a dramatic new change in policy discussed in the House of Commons today, nor a major event in the parliamentary process. There tends to be a new renewables order every year. They have been consulting for a very long time on new support levels for all renewables and now it is a question of putting it into legislation. To give the impression that it’s anything more than tying up the loose ends of the legislative process is misleading.
Furthermore, the BBC Radio Four piece seemed to argue that Europe was driving the UK to accept biofuels done badly. The reality is that, by implementing these new laws in the UK, the Government is reducing the chances of biofuels done badly. For example it introduces a supplier cap to liquid biofuels used for power generation. This puts entirely new limits in place to regulate better the biofuels that NGOs are worried about (e.g. palm oil). The reality is that 0.1 % of liquid biofuels used in transport is from palm oil (and that is sustainable, so it would not be allowed if it came from plantations on cut down rainforest). .
Thirdly, there was also some clear confusion in both the BBC article and the Radio 4 piece between liquid biofuels with solid biomass. Solid biomass too has sustainability criteria, so to imply protected rainforest wood can go to power generation is plain wrong. For example:
- Woody biomass (e.g. pellets) is sourced from residues, thinnings and less marketable wood. This provides additional income for forests, allowing investment in better forestry management. RSPB itself is on record as noting the biodiversity benefits of managed woodlands as opposed to unmanaged forestry. Not only is this great for wildlife, but the studies available also demonstrate major carbon sequestration advantages
- There is massive excess capacity in the world’s forests, including here in the UK. When they are managed sustainably, they absorb more carbon and encourage biodiversity. Biomass is another revenue stream to help pay for that management. Biomass can therefore bring swathes of forests in the UK and abroad under management, to everyone’s benefit.
To sum up - biomass and biofuels are very different and should not be confused. What is happening in Parliament today is a routine legislative process and the final steps of introducing wholly new limits on liquid biofuels, which can only be seen as a step in the right direction.