Biofuels: ethical issues


Published 12/04/2011

Report cover
Exhaust emmissions

Moral values relevant to current and new biofuels include: human rights, solidarity, sustainability, stewardship and justice.

Drawing on these values, the Council sets out six ethical principles that policy makers should use to evaluate biofuel technologies and guide policy development.

  1. Biofuels development should not be at the expense of people’s essential rights (including access to sufficient food and water, health rights, work rights and land entitlements)
  2. Biofuels should be environmentally sustainable.
  3. Biofuels should contribute to a net reduction of total greenhouse gas emissions and not exacerbate global climate change.
  4. Biofuels should develop in accordance with trade principles that are fair and recognise the rights of people to just reward (including labour rights and intellectual property rights).
  5. Costs and benefits of biofuels should be distributed in an equitable way.
  6. If the first five principles are respected and if biofuels can play a crucial role in mitigating dangerous climate change then, depending on certain key considerations, there is a duty to develop such biofuels.

We test European and UK biofuels policies against these ethical principles and recommend how they could be improved. Policies for, and regulation of, biofuels have led to or exacerbated ethical problems in the past, so it is important to have a set of ethical principles against which the policies can be evaluated.

Biofuels policies

A number of European and UK policies specifically promote the use of biofuels. For example:

  • The European Commission Renewable Energy Directive (2009) states that renewable energy sources such as biofuels should account for a minimum of 10 per cent of transport petrol and diesel by 2020.
  • The UK Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (Amendment) Order (2009) requires that 5 per cent of total transport fuel should originate from renewable sources by 2013.