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Biofuels are not the magic answer to oil shortages or global warming.

The Environmental Audit Committee, made up of UK MPs, said today the EU and UK governments were wrong to impose targets to encourage more use of biofuels, and that the use of such fuel could lead to environmental damage in the UK and elsewhere in the world.

The EAC report Are biofuels sustainable? calls for a moratorium on biofuel targets until the technology is more efficient and has been shown to be sustainable.

The Committee notes that biofuels are not likely to increase fuel security because they rely on fossil fuels for production, and that building a large biofuel industry is likely to increase food prices and lessen food security in developing countries. It also considers that current support from farmers is unsustainable and that greenhouse gas emissions could be more easily reduced by "planting forests and restoring habitats".

Committee chairman Tim Yeo said the government needed a biofuels policy that considers reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as well as the wider environmental impact.

Yeo said biofuels should only be used where they genuinely "contribute to sustainable emissions reductions".

Yeo said: "In addition the absence of international mechanisms to protect rainforests means that biofuels will add further to the already significant pressures to cut them down to make way for palm oil plantations. On the basis of current biofuel technology, more greenhouse gas cuts could be achieved at lower cost and risk by implementing a range of other policies.

"Advanced second generation biofuels may have an important role in the future, but these technologies are some years away. The Government should support their development by creating a stable investment climate out to 2020."

The National Farmers Union rejected the call for a moratorium, saying biofuels were the only renewable alternative for fuels in transport and the 25 per cent of UK carbon emissions that transport is responsible for.

NFU President Peter Kendall said: "The best thing for the Government to do with this report is to consign it to the dustbin of history and focus instead on the infinitely more balanced and better informed report published by the Royal Society on January 14 2008."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "We have made clear that we will not go support any increase in current biofuel targets until we are convinced that the biofuels can be delivered sustainably...

Experts generally agree that the majority of biofuels deliver greenhouse gas savings compared to fossil fuels, and our policies are based on the best available scientific evidence. The UK's biofuels obligation includes a world-leading reporting mechanism to give suppliers a strong incentive to source the most sustainable biofuels, paving the way for mandatory standards as soon as possible. "

On Wednesday this week the European Union outlines targets are for member states' use of renewable energy sources. The targets have been widely leaked - the EC average is expected to be 20 per cent, while Britain will have to hit 13-14 per cent of total energy used from renewable sources.

The EAC is here, the NFU comments are here. ®

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