Biofuels: ethical issues


Published 12/04/2011

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Exhaust emmissions

This report proposes a proportionate approach to governance for biofuels, including a comprehensive ethical standard based on our ethical principles.

Although targets provide long-term stability to producers, current targets in European and UK policies have encouraged the rapid and unsustainable expansion of biofuels production.

Bringing together the recommendations so far, we believe a wider strategy that includes an ethical standard for biofuels, alongside more responsive and flexible targets, will be helpful to guide future policy developments.

A standard and certification scheme will be most effective if accompanied by financial rewards and other incentives, but these must be used intelligently and be accompanied by ongoing monitoring of impacts.

Biofuels have a clear role to play in contributing to energy security, particularly in the transport sector, and in helping to mitigate climate change, although the extent to which they can contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions remains uncertain. There are strong reasons to support biofuels developments and technologies that meet our ethical principles, alongside other renewable energy sources and attempts to reduce overall demand for energy.

We conclude

European and national biofuels targets should be replaced with a more sophisticated target-based strategy that considers the wider consequences of biofuels production.

The strategy should incorporate a comprehensive ethical standard for all biofuels developed in and imported into the EU, enforced through a certification scheme. The standard should include:

  • protection of human rights and the environment
  • full life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions
  • fair trade principles
  • access and benefit-sharing schemes

The EU should provide financial support and advice to countries that might struggle to certify biofuels in this way.

The ethical standard and associated certification scheme should ideally be applied to all similar technologies and products to guide decision making in a wider policy context.