Britain should cut its target for biofuels use by 2020 so that tropical forests are not cut down to make way for biofuel crops, government climate advisors said on Friday.
Energy and climate minister Chris Huhne asked the Committee on Climate Change in July to advise on the country’s renewable energy target.
Under wider European Union goals, Britain has agreed a legally binding target to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, compared with 3 percent now, and has individual goals for heat, transport fuel and electricity.
While supporting the country’s overall target, the committee said a goal to obtain 10 percent of transport fuel from renewable sources, and mostly biofuels, was too high given sustainability concerns.
“This target should be lowered unless new evidence shows that it can be achieved sustainably,” the committee said in a letter to Huhne. Biofuels account for about 2.5 percent of Britain’s transport fuel mix now.
The committee supported an alternative, 8 percent target as recommended by a government-commissioned review in 2008.
Biofuels presently come from food crops such as corn, oil palm and sugar, and critics say that increased use of the alternative to conventional oil and gasoline has helped stoke food prices and tropical deforestation in countries like Indonesia and Brazil.
To cut costs, the committee also recommended shaving to 11 percent a target to get 12 percent of the country’s heat from renewable sources by 2020, compared with 1.6 percent now.
“New policies should be quickly introduced (to support renewable heat),” it said.
The committee supported the country’s overall renewable energy goal and said any shortfall from fewer biofuels or less renewable heat should be made up throuGh energy efficiency.
It backed a widespread industry view that the UK renewable energy target would be difficult, saying it was “within reach”, but “pushes the limits of what is likely to be feasible”.
“The current target is desirable, but there are significant risks around achieving it,” said David Kennedy, committee chief executive.
For example, the country installed 1 gigawatt (GW) of wind power in 2009, far behind the 3 GW required annually by 2020, it said. Faster deployment required a slimmer planning process, cabling upgrades and more clarity over financial support.
The letter also called for a phasing out of investment in gas-fired power generation which didn’t have carbon trapping technology fitted, called carbon capture and storage.
“Investment in unabated gas should be very limited beyond 2020, with almost all investment flowing to renewable and other low-carbon forms of generation.”