A major international report delivered to the G20 group of governments, emphasises that biofuels should not impinge on people’s basic right to food – a central element of the ethical framework developed by the Council in its recent report Biofuels: ethical issues.

The G20 report – undertaken by a range of international organisations including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and the World Bank – concluded that increases in bioethanol production reduced the supply of food and caused price increases.

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Biofuel subsidies and mandates

In an attempt to address this problem, the report urges G20 governments to end national policies that subsidise or mandate biofuel production or consumption. This would include the target set by the UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (Amendment) Order 2009 which effectively requires that biofuel should make up 5 percent of transport fuel by 2013. Failing the removal of these policies, the report suggests contingency plans are put in place to adjust such policies, at least temporarily, when global food markets are under pressure.

These recommendations are partly in-line with the recommendation of the Council that current national biofuel targets should be replaced with a more sophisticated target-based strategy that fully accounts for the wider consequences of biofuel production – including threats to food security. Such a strategy should drive biofuel development in a way that is both flexible and responsive, for instance, to emerging food insecurity.

New approaches to biofuels

The G20 report also recommends that scientific research should be accelerated on alternatives to reduce carbon emissions and to improve sustainability and energy security.

The Council similarly recommends that policy makers should incentivise research on new biofuels technologies that need less land and other resources, avoid social and environmental harms, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are big discrepancies between the policies that are in place to promote current biofuels, and the very few incentives for developing new approaches to biofuel production.

The international report was requested by G20 leaders in November 2010 to develop options on how to mitigate and manage better the risks associated with food price volatility, ultimately to protect the most vulnerable.

Find out more about the Council's work on biofuels.

View the Policy Report Price Volatility in Food and Agricultural Markets: Policy Responses