Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Eighth Report


We have undertaken to examine various aspects of the climate change agenda, and to assess how the UK can best reduce its climate change impact. This report examines the role that bioenergy—in the form of biomass for heat and electricity generation, and biofuels for transport—can play in reducing carbon emissions from the UK.

We were disappointed to find that current Government policy on bioenergy is piecemeal and so lacking in ambition as to raise questions about the extent of the Government's commitment to its domestic climate change agenda. If it is to lead by example, the Government must renew and redouble its efforts to exploit the potential of bioenergy.

We are concerned about the multiplicity of Government bioenergy support schemes currently planned or already in place, and the attendant level of confusion that this causes. Government departments must work much more closely together on bioenergy to develop a more streamlined and coherent strategy, and to demonstrate a more convincing commitment to tackling climate change.

There is significant variation in the carbon savings enabled by different technologies, with 'first generation' biofuels typically generating lower savings than the use of organic waste for heat and electricity, for example. But across the range of technologies, the UK is not making the most of bioenergy as a means of reducing carbon emissions.

We are also concerned that biofuels are receiving a disproportionate degree of Government support, to the detriment of biomass. Biomass has significant potential to reduce the UK's carbon emissions. We therefore recommend that the Government increase its support for heat and electricity generation from biomass to a level that ensures the anticipated carbon savings from biomass and from biofuels are the same.

We accept that the Government may be reluctant to pick technology 'winners' and 'losers' at this stage, but it is vital that the Government examine the barriers to further progress on second generation biofuels, with their superior carbon savings and compatibility with current transport infrastructure, and—as a matter of urgency—establish the level of investment and policy support required to accelerate development of this technology.

We are deeply concerned that the terms of the Government's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) have the potential to 'lock in' first generation biofuels, and in so doing, to damage the prospects for the commercial development of more advanced second generation biofuels. Concerted and sustained investment will be required if these fuels are to become commercially viable. Carbon savings must be linked to RTFO certification in order to facilitate such investment. There is also a potentially significant role for biomass-derived second generation aviation fuels in reducing the climate impact of aviation: the Government should actively support measures to develop this technology.

In conducting this inquiry we encountered a wide range of different units, measurements and terms that are used in calculations of energy and emissions. We recognise that different kinds of data are needed for different purposes, but the Government should ensure that its use of units and terminology is consistent across departments so that those outside the science community can form a clearer view of the relative merits of different forms of energy in the context of climate change.

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Prepared 18 September 2006