UK Report on the Ethics of Biofuels

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent professional organization made up of academics from around the UK, today issued what some consider a scathing report on biofuels, calling on the EU to set aside the renewable fuel mandates that are currently in place until the concerns that it has raised are addressed.

The Council states that there should be a set of ethical standards for biofuels, including:

1      Biofuels development should not be at the expense of human rights

2      Biofuels should be environmentally sustainable

3      Biofuels should contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

4      Biofuels should adhere to fair trade principles

5      Costs and benefits of biofuels should be distributed in an equitable way

Further, it suggests that these standards should be addressed through adoption of a certification program for biofuels within the EU.

Gallon Letter’s first review indicates that in our opinion there are some major issues with the report:

a)   The Council ignored some important scientific issues, such as not determining whether or not biofuels are actually causing a shortage of land for food production. Much evidence, reported in the latest Gallon Environment Letter, indicates that they are not.

b)   The Council relied extensively on hearsay, and somewhat unreliable, evidence regarding fair trading and lifecycle analysis of biofuels.

c)  The Council ignored the alternative – increasing consumption of fossil fuels, which is a far worse alternative on several of the Council’s ethical criteria than development of biofuels.

d)  The Council paid scant attention to the fact that biofuels are a very new product and that substantial improvements to production methods will inevitably emerge if early introduction indicates there is an economically viable market.

Gallon Letter believes that by ignoring these key aspects, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has itself provided a report which falls short of full disclosure of the facts. GL will be reviewing the report and covering the issues raised in more detail in a future issue.

The report is available at  http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/biofuels-0

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