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Biofuels could have doubled  the carbon dioxide emissions of the fossil fuels they replace – equivalent to putting half a million extra cars on the road – since a new law adding them to UK fuel came in a year ago, new research published by Friends of the Earth shows today (Wednesday 15 April 2009).

Conservative estimates show the biofuels obligation, which came into force in April 2008, could have caused 1.3 million tonnes of extra carbon dioxide emissions. The new figures come on the day the Government increases the amount of biofuels in our petrol and diesel from 2.5 to 3.3 per cent.

The independent study for Friends of the Earth estimates how much forest is being cut down to replace food crops that have been displaced in order to grow biofuels for the UK – a figure currently omitted in Government statistics.

It reveals that when the full impact of deforestation is taken into account, biofuels added to UK petrol and diesel may be producing more than twice the carbon dioxide of the fossil fuels they replace.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to suspend the biofuels obligation until Ministers can be sure it is saving carbon dioxide emissions not increasing them.  The environmental group says the Government should focus instead on creating a first-class public transport system, reducing the number of car journeys, and encouraging people to use smarter cars that use less fuel.

Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director Andy Atkins said:

“Until Ministers can do their sums properly and prove that growing crops for fuel actually cuts carbon – the Government should stop biofuels being added to UK petrol and diesel."

 “Trying to cut emissions by adding biofuels to petrol is like trying to cut down on beer by lacing your pints with vodka."

“Investing in first class public transport is a much better way to reduce emissions on our roads."

“One year on, it’s clear the biofuels obligation is a failure.”


1. Since 15 April 2008, the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) has required suppliers to add biofuels to fuel in an attempt to cut climate-changing emissions. Ministers say the policy will save two and half million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent, to taking one million cars off the roads.

2. According to the new figures, soy crops from US, Argentina and Brazil, used in the most common biodiesels sold in the UK, could be causing three times more emissions than conventional fossil fuels. Even biofuels grown on farmland in the UK is contributing to the problem by pushing aside other crops and adding to the pressure on carbon- rich rainforests in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil.

3. The research was carried out by independent consultants Scott Wilson Group plc. A full copy of the figures, and a breakdown of the research methodology, is available from the Friends of the Earth press office on request – please call 020 7566 1649. A set of carbon-costed transport case studies is also available.

4. The researchers used a conservative assumption (10 per cent) of how much extra crop land would have to be created to replace food and other crops pushed aside in the rush to plant biofuels. They then allocated this additional farmland to different land types equally and calculated the amount of extra emissions clearing this land would cause.

5. In theory biofuels are good for the climate because plants absorb carbon, which is re-released when the fuel is burnt. However, research now suggests that growing crops for fuel increases demand for land and leads to more rainforests being turned into farmland – releasing huge amounts of carbon from the soil and trees into the atmosphere. Official statistics currently leave out these extra ‘indirect’ emissions, despite a major Government report (the Gallagher Review) identifying them as one of the main drawbacks of crop-based fuels.

6. Chopping down one hectare of Amazonian rainforest can release as much as 1000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That is more than the average Briton would produce in their whole life time.

7. According to the Department for Transport figures from 2007 the average car in the UK produces 2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.¬

If you're a journalist looking for press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.


Published by Friends of the Earth Trust