Friday, October 05, 2007

Biofuel plant approved for Avonmouth is not green.

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Biofuels are still commonly seen as green. Some may see the plans to build the UK's biggest biodiesel plant in Avonmouth, just agreed by 'green' Bristol City Council, as part of the green development of that area. Biofuels certainly dont qualify as green if they originate from large scale monocultures however, with very large areas cleared for the energy and chemical intensive cultivation of single crops. (The same sort of argument applies to biodegradable plastics like the corn starch ones Bristol City Council wants to make available to line our brown recycling bins with).

Most biofuels, sometimes called agrofuels, are made from large-scale monocultures of oil palms, sugar cane, soya, maize, sugar beet, oilseed rape and jatropha. They should not be considered green as they contribute substantially more to greenhouse gas emissions by nitrous oxide emissions from fertiliser use and by land conversion, than are saved by burning slightly less fossil fuels. They are set to significantly accelerate climate change, something academic and green campaigner George Monbiot has written about with some passion (also see

Its not just climate impact that makes biofuels from monocultures distinctly non-green: bio-diversity losses, water and soil degradation, human rights abuses (including the impoverishment and dispossession of local populations) and the loss of food sovereignty and food security. The impacts seen today result from a less than 1% market penetration of biofuels in Europe yet the EU target is 10% by 2020 and the UK are aiming for 5% by 2010.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has called on governments to cut their subsidies for the sector, saying biofuels may "offer a cure that is worse than the disease they seek to heal."

The European demand for biofuels is pushing up commodity prices and thus encouraging multi-billion dollar investment in infrastructure and refineries linked to large-scale deforestation. The impacts of this investment could be irreversible and will open up tens of millions of hectares of virgin forest to land conversion and logging.

Greens support an immediate moratorium on agrofuels from large-scale monocultures - a period for scientists and policy makers in the EU and western nations to gain a greater understanding of the total impact on social, human and land rights plus climate and biodiversity impacts. The Green Party supports the Agrofuels Moratorium Call launched in July 2007 in Brussels (supported by over 100 organisations in its first week).

There should be no public sector incentives for agrofuels and agroenergy from large-scale monocultures. We need a moratorium on EU imports of agrofuels. All targets, incentives such as tax breaks and subsidies which benefit agrofuels from large-scale monocultures, including financing through carbon trading mechanisms, international development aid or loans from international finance organisations such as the World Bank should be suspended now.

The moratorium called for by the signatories applies only to agrofuels from large-scale monocultures (and GM biofuels) and their trade. It does not include biofuels from waste, such as waste vegetable oil or biogas from manure or sewage, or biomass grown and harvested sustainably by and for the benefit of local communities, rather than on large-scale monocultures. Such sustainable biofuels development may well be valuable - where local sources of food production and biodiversity are not endangered, soil is protected from depletion, industrial scale chemical fertilizer regimes and the use of any GM technology are banned. This means small-scale production units, eg on farms, which benefit the local communities.

See also:

Barrage might hinder 'green port' development

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A powerful contribution to the public debate on the severn barrage/tidal energy from the Bristol Port Company today. They are concerned that barrage plans are not commercially viable, would cause real environmental problems and would hinder their plans for a deep water dock .

They claim that a deep water dock would cut lorry journeys (and thus carbon emissions) by allowing goods to be delivered closer to towns/cities.

I see their point about a barrage hindering the potentially 'green development' of the port.