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Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
European Standing Committee Debates

Emissions from Road Transport and Inland Waterways



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: John Bercow
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Davies, Mr. Quentin (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab)
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Goodwill, Mr. Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
Holloway, Mr. Adam (Gravesham) (Con)
Kramer, Susan (Richmond Park) (LD)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
Moffat, Anne (East Lothian) (Lab)
Southworth, Helen (Warrington, South) (Lab)
Stringer, Graham (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab)
Touhig, Mr. Don (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
Chris Shaw, Celia Blacklock, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):
Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)

European Standing Committee

Tuesday 20 November 2007

[John Bercow in the Chair]

Emissions from Road Transport and Inland Waterways

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): It is a pleasure, Mr. Bercow, to see you in the Chair. I do not believe that I have served under you before, so it is a double pleasure.
The draft directive amends two existing directives on the quality of petrol and diesel fuel and on the specifications of other fuels such as heating oil and marine fuels. Most of the amendments have not been controversial, but one amendment to the fuel quality directive has been. It introduces a new provision, setting a target for annual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from road transport fuels.
The Government fully support the principle behind that amendment. We are strongly committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all forms of transport, and we are promoting biofuels as a way of doing so. The purpose of the renewable transport fuel obligation is to secure for biofuels a 5 per cent. share by volume of the UK market by 2010-11. Earlier this month, the House approved the order creating the Renewable Fuels Agency, which will administer the RTFO. From the outset of the RTFO, fuel suppliers will be required to report on the greenhouse gas savings and sustainability characteristics of their biofuels.
We announced in June our aim that from 2010-11 the RTFO should be based on carbon savings, and that from 2011-12 it should incorporate mandatory requirements on sustainability. We place great importance on the sustainability of biofuels, so we have serious concerns about the Commission's proposal for a greenhouse gas reduction target. In our view, it could create a demand for biofuels that might not be sustainably produced. The target would require a 10 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from road transport fuel over the 10 years from 2010 to 2020. Those emissions would be measured over the life cycle of the fuel, from production to combustion.
In principle, many things could be done to help to meet that target, including reductions in flaring at oil wells, efficiency improvements at refineries, the capture and storage of carbon dioxide, and the use of alternative fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas or hydrogen. However, it is clear that the biggest proportion of the savings must be achieved through biofuels. The spring European Council agreed to a target of a 10 per cent. share for biofuels in petrol and diesel consumption by 2020. In the absence of any figures from the Commission, we have estimated what share of biofuels would be needed to meet the proposed greenhouse gas reduction target in 2020. Our conclusion is that it could be as much as twice the European Council target, so there is a significant inconsistency between the greenhouse gas target and the biofuels target.
In proposing the biofuels target, the European Council was not certain that that could be achieved entirely through sustainable production, so it stipulated that the binding nature of the target should be dependent on the sustainability of the biofuels and on the commercial availability of second generation biofuels. It also said that the biofuels should be introduced cost efficiently. None of those conditions applies to the proposed greenhouse gas reduction target. As drafted, therefore, it could place fuel suppliers under an unacceptable legal obligation, achievable only by expanding biofuel production beyond sustainable limits. In our view, more evidence is needed of the implications of a greenhouse gas reduction target before a particular value can be set. We proposed postponing its introduction meanwhile, but in our negotiations in the Council of Ministers, it has been clear that most member states support the Commission in wanting to include a greenhouse gas reduction target in the fuel quality directive.
At the Environment Council on 30 October, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs indicated that the UK would consider adopting such a target in the directive, in keeping with a vision for decarbonising road transport fuels, so long as the target met the conditions on which we have always insisted: it should be compatible with the spring European Council biofuels target and it should be underpinned by robust and comprehensive sustainability criteria and methodologies for assessment of greenhouse gas reductions. We aim to continue negotiating on that basis, seeking to achieve an outcome that will deliver high greenhouse gas savings without disproportionate costs. That is reflected in the motion before the Committee.
The Chairman: We now have until half-past 5 for questions to the Minister. I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity for all Members to ask several questions if they so wish.
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow.
The Minister talked at some length about the sustainability of sources of biofuels. I assume that, in the main, he is talking about their environmental sustainability. What assessment has been made of their economic sustainability, given recent changes in the market for grains and oilseeds? Also, what will be their social sustainability, given the impact that there may be on developing countries?
Jim Fitzpatrick: In the partial regulatory impact assessment that was published in the Committee’s documents for today, there is a table on page 215 that outlines the costs, both economic and environmental, of the various options that were before the European Scrutiny Committee. We have always said that it is not an exact science, and that was reflected last month in the deliberations in the Delegated Legislation Committee on the draft Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order 2007. There have been fluctuations because of the developing nature of the methodology. For example, we initially assessed that, if biofuels had a 5 per cent. share by volume of the market, there would be a saving of up to 1 million tonnes of carbon. We reduced that figure to 700,000 tonnes and then possibly even 600,000 tonnes. The table gives the various costs and assessments of the options that were considered by the European Scrutiny Committee.
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): May I add my congratulations on your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Bercow?
The Commission has said that it will not decide the detailed methodology for evaluating life-cycle greenhouse gas until after the proposals have been approved. Does the Minister believe that life-cycle greenhouse gas will include potential increases in carbon emissions as a result of the use of non-sustainable sources of biofuels?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Our position has been that, as I have just said to the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, the calculations will have to be adjusted during the development of the science, as we move from 2.5 per cent. to 5 per cent. biofuel share in the UK by 2010. Such matters will have to be taken into account. Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman could elaborate a little more on his question, I might be able to give a more precise answer.
Mr. Goodwill: The Minister drew my attention to the table on page 215, which shows the economic costs to be between £667 million and £1,362 million. Is that quite wide discrepancy—I assume that the Chancellor has not been helping the Minister with the figures—due to a degree of estimation, or to the fact that we do not know whether grain is going to be £80 a tonne or £180 a tonne in the long term?
Jim Fitzpatrick: As the hon. Gentleman describes, there are a number of variables in the calculations. As is alluded to elsewhere in the document, there are even different assessments of the energy value of a biofuel, its ability to perform and, depending on which source it comes from, how powerful it will be. The table outlines the five options that the Committee considered. The UK’s position is that we do not accept any of the options; we are travelling somewhere option 2 and option 3c. Our position, as I outlined in my opening remarks, is that because we do not believe that the 10 per cent. volume, which will require 20 per cent. biofuels by 2020, would necessarily be sourced from sustainable outlets, the figures are open to flux. A number of factors are involved and will lead to differing conclusions being arrived at. As the hon. Gentleman outlined, price is one of those factors.
Mr. Leech: I shall try to expand on my previous question. Does the Minister accept that if the methodology used by the Commission were to include carbon emissions created by the use of biofuels in non-sustainable areas, it could be a good way in which to stop the use of those non-sustainable biofuels?
Mr. Goodwill: I would like to ask about petrol vapour pressure. I have had a number of meetings over the years with the Spanish oil industry, which has problems with the temperature in its country and with the crude oil that it has to use to produce that fuel. What assumptions have the UK Government made about the sourcing of crude oil and the effect that that would have? I am sure that the Minister is aware that it is easier to make low-vapour pressure fuel from the heavier oils in the North sea than from some of the Saudi light oils, which have caused the Spanish such problems, and even raised problems at 5 per cent. ethanol inclusion.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am sorry, but I am unable to answer that question now. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall come back to it in my closing remarks and try to give him an answer that will satisfy his curiosity.
Mr. Leech: On petrol vapour pressure limits, will the Minister indicate how much it will cost to introduce that one element of the proposal, and would that cost be a one-off, or ongoing?
Jim Fitzpatrick: We are hoping that there will not be any change to the UK’s position on our standard for vapour pressure, which I think is 70 kPa. Notwithstanding the fact that the Commission has suggested that there should be a 60 kPa limit with an eight point tolerance, we are quite confident that we can maintain the UK’s vapour pressure limits and, therefore, we do not anticipate that there will be any need for the UK to make any adjustments.
Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I am sure that you are aware, Mr. Bercow, as many will be, of the problems caused by lead tetraethyl in petrol, which was invented by the same man who nearly damaged the ozone layer with fluorinated hydrocarbon. I am very worried, therefore, having read paragraph 4.12 on page 173 of the document, that there appears to be a certain amount of complacency about putting metallic additives into transport fuels. I might, of course, have misunderstood, but I would be grateful if the Minister could enlighten us and reassure us that we will not get another lead tetraethyl problem.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I can assure my hon. Friend fully that there is no complacency within Government when it comes to the health of the nation and protecting the public against contaminants from any source. As far as we are concerned, given the negotiations that we have been involved in with the rest of Europe, the fuel quality directive will allow us to protect the British public fully. There is no great risk. That is born not of complacency, but of a confidence that we are doing all that we can.
Mr. Goodwill: I am sure that the Minister is aware that vapour pressure and fuel volatilisation are mainly a problem when vehicles are being refuelled. What assessment has been made of alternative approaches, such as a vapour capture system for when vehicles are refuelled? Of course, such an example might require a commonality between the types of fuelling ports on vehicles. Has any assessment been made of such an approach? It would seem a fairly sensible line of attack to take as an alternative to the proposal.
Jim Fitzpatrick: As I explained to the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington, we are relatively confident that there will be no need to make any adjustment. Notwithstanding that, the Commission has proposed that there ought to be a stage two vapour recovery process. The explanatory memorandum from the Commission says that it intends to come forward with a proposal for stage two vapour recovery at fuel filling stations. It says that that would more than offset any increase in evaporative emissions due to the ethanol vapour pressure waiver in the proposal. Requirements for stage two vapour recovery do not form part of the proposal before the Committee. They would be subject to a separate proposal in due course.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has the policy lead for our Government on the issue. I understand that it is introducing national requirements for stage two vapour recovery at larger fuelling stations. It would need to consider in detail the proportionality of any EU proposal that extended those requirements to smaller fuelling stations. The Commission is working on that matter, with DEFRA leading on it, and we have not reached a conclusion.
Graham Stringer: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his previous reply. Personally, I am not a great advocate of the precautionary principle. Let me take my hon. Friend back to the second paragraph in 4.12, which I find rather worrying:
“The Commission will continue developing the test protocol. In parallel, the relevant industries need to provide information to their customers that should enable them to avoid any undesirable impacts.”
The words
“should enable them to avoid”
do not seem as reassuring as the Minister’s words. The idea seems to be at odds with the way in which the European Union, via the Commission and the Parliament, normally treats potentially hazardous chemicals. It is certainly not the way that it treated phthalates, which are plasticisers in PVC. I would be grateful if the Minister could expand on that. I, for one, do not want to see metals thrown willy-nilly into the atmosphere without knowing what the impact will be.
Jim Fitzpatrick: As it says in the paragraph above the one to which my hon. Friend refers:
“Despite these concerns, it does not appear to be possible to state with certainty that metallic additives cause damage. To improve understanding, it was considered desirable to establish a test protocol to determine their effect.”
That will clearly have to be done so that reassurance is given to member states and to colleagues such as my hon. Friend to ensure that there is no public concern about health.
Mr. Goodwill: I am sure that the Minister will recall some of the problems that were experienced by owners of older vehicles when lead was taken out of fuel. Has he made any assessment of likely problems in cars fitted with carburettors rather than modern fuel injection systems? Could that lead to problems with vapour lock in fuel lines during hot summer conditions?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Such assessments have been made. As far as I am aware, the appropriate adjustments and recommendations for vehicles have been advised. There is therefore no inherent threat to the performance of vehicles in respect of these fuels.
Mr. Goodwill: Has the Minister taken any account in his deliberations of the balance to be struck between point pollution, such as that caused by a tractor operating in a field and producing sulphur dioxide, and more diffuse pollution, such as that caused by a ship in the middle of the ocean that would be burning the sulphur that had been removed from red diesel? Obviously, the sulphur is not taken out of the system altogether, but is left in the heavy bunker fuel. Has there been consideration of how the displacement of pollution through such measures could have an impact on other parts of the world, particularly coastal areas?
Jim Fitzpatrick: As the hon. Gentleman knows, farm machinery is not a significant source of the pollutant gas sulphur dioxide. The purpose of removing sulphur from gas oil is not to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions, but to enable the use of catalysts on farm machinery engines to control emissions of particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen. Those catalysts would be damaged by the sulphur in gas oil, hence there is a proposal to reduce it. A study has been carried out to ensure that that is the case.
Mr. Goodwill: This is my last question. What negotiations has the Minister had with his European opposite numbers to build a coalition behind the UK’s position? He might recall how unsuccessful we were in securing the continued derogation for marine fuel, and I wonder whether it will be d(c)j vu all over again in this case, too.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I could say, “None,” and sit down, because I have not had any discussions with my opposite numbers, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as I outlined in my opening statement, we clearly stated our position at the European Council in the spring. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs outlined our reservations at the Council most recently, and we are relatively confident that we will reach a position that is acceptable to us in due course. The disagreement between the Commission and ourselves about the calculations and the variables suggests that it wants to set a stretching and ambitious target with which we would not necessarily agree. However, it might not necessarily expect us to attain that target, which is 20 per cent. It might look for 14 or 15 per cent., which, given that our preference would be 10 per cent., is somewhere between the two. We are confident about our negotiating posture. We are in direct contact with like-minded member states, as we are on all European issues, and we are as confident as we can be about a successful outcome to those deliberations.
Graham Stringer: I am sure that it will surprise my hon. Friend to hear that I have not had time to read, absorb and understand the whole document. Will he tell me whether I am right or wrong to think that the directive’s objective is to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases? On a quick reading of the document, I am worried that it implies an increase in nitrogen dioxide, in other NOx gases, and, potentially, in sulphur dioxide. Is that an accurate reading, or will greenhouse gases, NOx gases and sulphur dioxide be reduced?
Jim Fitzpatrick: With most of these matters, as was noted in our discussions when we passed the RTFO last month, there might well be consequences. Our success in controlling greenhouse gas emissions, and carbon dioxide in particular, might have a minor knock-on effect through the increase of other gases. Given that carbon dioxide is perceived to be the main driver of climate change, it is our main focus. That does not mean that we are not looking to control other sources of contamination and other emissions—they are certainly being looked at. There might be small increases in the emissions that my hon. Friend mentions, but we are confident about the overall impact of the RTFO and our position on the fuel quality directive, through which we are trying to ensure that sustainable biofuels lead to a reduction in carbon and are derived from a sustainable source. Carbon dioxide is our most important focus at this time.
Graham Stringer: I am glad that I have a general understanding of the directive, but that answer is quite worrying, because in parts of the United Kingdom, including parts of London, NOx levels are above those set out in European directives—they are stopping directives. Can my hon. Friend assure me that there has been consideration of the impact that this directive and proposal will have on areas where the air quality is already below the EU standard?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that the Government intend to ensure that the air that we breathe is as pure as possible. As for London, he will know that the Mayor of London has high standards to which he expects transport, in particular, to adhere, thereby ensuring that the problem of gases in some hot spots being above the levels in other parts of the country and elsewhere is actually addressed and attacked.
In reply to the specific question that my hon. Friend asked a moment ago, the potential increase in the emissions of sulphur dioxide and NOx gases would be very small, according to present scientific estimates. The proposal will not increase SO2 emissions, but will result in a small reduction. For NOx, the situation might indeed be the reverse, but I assure him that research is ongoing and that the matter is very much under the microscope, if he will excuse the pun. We certainly do not wish to take our eye off one contaminant simply because, in our view, we are making good progress against the main threat to the planet, which is carbon dioxide.
The Chairman: If no more Members wish to ask questions, we will proceed to the debate on the motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 6145/07 and Addenda 1 and 2, draft Directive amending Directive 98/70/EC as regards the specification of petrol, diesel and gas-oil and introducing a mechanism to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the use of road transport fuels, and amending Council Directive 1999/32/EC as regards the specifications of fuel used by inland waterway vessels and repealing Directive 93/12/EEC; and endorses the Government's aim of ensuring that the measure is cost effective, and that the target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions does not lead to the use of unsustainably produced biofuels and is consistent with the biofuels target for 2020 endorsed in the Spring Council Declaration.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]
4.57 pm
Mr. Goodwill: We have made remarkable progress over the past 20 or 30 years in improving the quality of our country and also the performance of our vehicles. The Minister just mentioned the problems in inner London. He may be surprised to know that on the hottest, most polluted day of summer, a petrol car with its catalytic converter at operating temperature actually cleans the air, but of course that does not detract from the major problem facing us, which, as he mentioned, is CO2, and while the motor industry is able to build cars with increasingly lower CO2 outputs, the real challenge is to persuade consumers to buy those cars and to leave their gas guzzlers.
Tremendous progress in the reduction of SO2 has been made, largely by the fuel industry and the oil refiners who have managed to remove sulphur from fuel. Of course, that had an energy cost. I am pleased to note in the proposal that the industry is looking at year-on-year efficiency improvements at oil refinery level.
We must not forget that the sulphur that is removed from petrol, diesel and other refined oils ends up ultimately in the bunker fuel that is used in shipping. Much of that fuel is up to 5 per cent. sulphur, and that poses problems where shipping comes into close contact with the shoreline. There are some agreements in respect of MARPOL annex VI areas in the North and Baltic seas and the English channel, but they do not altogether obviate the problem.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley mentioned NOx. The fact that we have removed sulphur from fuel means that the advanced catalytic converters and selective catalytic reduction systems fitted to many diesel trucks can now operate without being gummed up with either particulates or sulphur. In addition, of course, as we heard, lead and other heavy metals have been removed from fuel.
I remember a conversation that I had with Dr. Caroline Jackson, who chaired the European Parliament Environment Committee. I had the privilege of serving on that Committee for five years. She said that in her first meeting with the motor industry on the subject, she was told that it was not practically possible to produce a car engine that did not need lead in the fuel. We have moved a long way from there, and it is all credit to the motor industry and to the oil companies that every time we set them a challenge, they respond to it and develop the technology.
The problem that we now face is the law of diminishing returns. For every pound or euro we spend trying to improve the atmosphere and performance, we get an ever smaller return. Perhaps the proposals that the Minister has put forward today are a recognition of the fact that some of the objectives that have been laudably laid down might not be as economically attainable as we would like. I was involved with vapour pressure limits in the European Parliament. We raised those concerns at that time, but all too often at Council level it is a case of the emperor’s new clothes almost—no one wants to step out of line and say, “This is not sensibly attainable.” All too often, we are signed up to directives and regulations that we know full well we cannot meet, as with fridges and the ozone-depleting substances regulations. The UK must have known that we could not meet those requirements, but we signed up all the same so that we could not be criticised for not being green.
The problem of vapour pressure limits is not only an issue in relation to ethanol being added to fuel. It will also emerge as an issue as our North sea oil supplies dry up and we return to lighter crudes from around the world. We support the UK Government in their wish to maintain the 70 kPa limit and not to have too great a pressure at the pumps, which makes a lot of practical sense. We must also consider more seriously the alternative approach of vapour capture, which would mean that there was less concern about the vapour pressure of the fuel as that vapour could be captured at refuelling, which is the only time at which it becomes an issue.
On gas oil and the issues relating to non-road mobile machinery, I was a shadow rapporteur on the directive, which was first taken through European Parliament by Heidi Hautala for the Greens and then taken up by Alexander de Roo. The fact that the Greens took the lead on the issue indicates where some of the problems arose. For very good and ambitious reasons in terms of the future of the planet, they perhaps pushed the Council further than it wished. We have now made a rod for our own back and are having to come up with practical ways in which to address the problem.
From a practical point of view, it would make sense to have one grade of red diesel for non-road mobile machinery, rail and inland waterways. The practicalities regarding having separate delivery systems and storage make a lot of sense, as one can read in the document. We also need to analyse the impact on the quality of vehicles operating in close proximity to the public or workers, as opposed to vehicles, such as tractors, that usually are not in close proximity to people and are concentrated in areas that we might be able to prioritise with less emphasis. It is important that vehicles that operate in towns and cities are as clean as possible; that should be where the emphasis is.
On the renewable transport fuel obligation and biofuels, I think that we started this journey without having a clear destination, and we need to reconsider the long-term sustainability of the strategy from an economic point of view. The point was made in Committee the other day that, for biofuels to have a 5 per cent. share of the market in this country, we would need between 1.2 and 1.9 million hectares of UK land to be turned over to biofuel production. It will have economic impacts on developing countries in which food supplies are short. We are used to putting our hands into our pockets when there is a famine in Africa, and we expect grain to be available, but if we put it into our Range Rover fuel tanks, it will not be available, so there will be social implications around the world.
We know about the environmental implications of biofuels. I declare an interest in the matter as a biofuel producer on my farm. It is only 50 per cent. carbon efficient, and some other biofuels are even less carbon efficient. A lot depends on what other factors are brought into the equation, as that figure is based purely on the production costs. If we start looking at what the additional tractor drivers who are employed do with their wages and whether they go on foreign holidays, and if we consider the whole issue of deforestation and habitats in the far east and countries such as Brazil, we have to take some enlightened decisions. It is all very well for us to say that we will source our biofuels only from sustainable sources if that displaces foodstuffs that are produced from unsustainable sources. In the European Parliament, we often found that the environmental ambitions of MEPs exceeded the practical and economic realities. We must consider carefully how much bang we get for every buck we invest in a cleaner environment. At worst, we could push some of the dirty practices abroad as we make our industries less economic.
We must consider the law of diminishing returns, and the point at which the additional environmental improvements do not justify the cost. We must also consider point pollution against diffuse pollution, and I referred to shipping. We can take the sulphur out of red diesel, which is used in tractors and construction equipment, but that sulphur will be burned on a ship somewhere. It might not have an impact on Scandinavian forests, but it will have an impact on the acidification of our oceans. We need clear environmental measurements and to view each initiative in isolation. We must read across different proposals from the Commission to decide where our priorities should lie. I hope that the Minister is more successful in this case than he was on the marine fuel extension to our derogation, and I wish him luck in his negotiations in Brussels.
All too often, we hear about what has been going on in the Council in conciliation meetings and in hammering things out. Having served on more of these Committees than I care to think about, one of my great disappointments is that all too often in the Council of Ministers we are not represented by Ministers. If some of the decisions had had more political input and practicality than elected members can provide, we might have had slightly better agreements that would have been more realistic and practical to implement, or perhaps the Ministers who make the decisions realise that they will not be in place when the birds come home to roost.
5.7 pm
Mr. Leech: I do not intend to make a long speech, but the raging debate about the use of biofuels will no doubt continue for a long time, and there are some legitimate concerns about the sustainable and other sourcing of biofuels. We believe that the Government’s amended proposals will avoid an increase in biofuels from non-sustainable sources, but there is potential for other Governments to meet EU targets. Notwithstanding the legitimate concerns raised by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley, we shall support the Government.
5.8 pm
Jim Fitzpatrick: May I express my appreciation for the comments of the hon. Gentleman who is speaking for the Liberal Democrats?
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby demonstrates his considerable expertise in this area from his time as a Member of the European Parliament and in farming. He alluded to the cost of the exercise, but we have never said that saving the planet would be cost free. We have always said that there may be a cost.
There is a genuine question about the estimated success of biofuels and the range of carbon savings that have been alluded to. Last week, I had a meeting with some of my officials and people from McDonald’s, who are converting their UK fleet to use biofuels. They have a successful delivery agent, and they are proud of what they have done. They are recycling their cooking fat to power their vehicles almost entirely, with only a little virgin fuel. We asked what the energy comparison was between what they used to use and what they use now. Some of the Department’s estimates suggest that there could be a 10 per cent. loss in energy when using biofuel instead of conventional fuel, but McDonald’s is saying that the loss is only 1 per cent. Obviously, these are early days, but that demonstrates that there is a lot of science to be undertaken in order to validate accurately exactly where we will end up. However, we are confident about the core issue, which is on the direction of travel.
Mr. Goodwill: The Minister is right that McDonald’s is at the cutting edge of that technology. I am sure that he is aware, however, that the only reason that such waste cooking oil is now available as a fuel is that the animal by-products directive obviated its use as an animal feed, which has a very high-value use, and so a positive value. The problem at the moment is that waste cooking oil has a negative value and many restaurants and other outlets will throw it down the drain, rather than pay to have it taken away.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I accept the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I was trying to identify and use as an example the variables in the calculations for end products. Indeed, McDonald’s made the same point he did a moment ago.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of bunker fuel in shipping. I am sure that he is aware that the UK is pushing for emissions from international shipping to be resolved at an international level, in the same way that we are trying to arrive at an international arrangement for aviation to be included in the European emissions trading scheme. We are pushing for success through the International Maritime Organisation, which is in London this fortnight for its biennial conference. That will include a reduction or limit on greenhouse gas emissions from ships.
The hon. Gentleman asked a question that I was unable to answer earlier about crude oil sources affecting the ability to meet the vapour pressure limits. I am advised that we do not anticipate any increased costs in complying with the current limits. We have consulted with UK refiners, which have not indicated that there is likely to be a problem with that.
The hon. Gentleman raised another question about the sustainability of the policy generally. I have explained that we agreed that we want to keep the sustainability of biofuels under close review, which is why we developed the detailed reporting methodology to address the impacts that we discussed more fully in the RTFO Committee last month. We will ask the Renewable Fuels Agency to report regularly to Parliament on such matters, so that the latter can keep it under close scrutiny.
I shall respond to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley about lead tetraethyl and whether the Government was being complacent. Currently, there is no widespread use of metallic additives in the EU. Nevertheless, the Commission is working on methods for either approving or prohibiting those additives. That is a sensible precaution, but there is no immediate health risk from those additives. I hope that that gives him greater reassurance than perhaps I was able to give earlier on.
There is no need for me to stress the Government’s commitment to dealing with climate change, or our support for many of the measures that we have discussed today. The sustainability of biofuels is important, and the motion emphasises how seriously we take it. We shall continue to press for high sustainability standards to be adopted by the EU. As the motion indicates, we want any greenhouse gas target to be consistent with the 2020 target for biofuels, and we expect the proposals to be cost-effective. Only then, and with the agreement of this Committee, will we be prepared to agree to this amending directive and to the proposal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 6145/07 and Addenda 1 and 2, draft Directive amending Directive 98/70/EC as regards the specification of petrol, diesel and gas-oil and introducing a mechanism to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the use of road transport fuels, and amending Council Directive 1999/32/EC as regards the specifications of fuel used by inland waterway vessels and repealing Directive 93/12/EEC; and endorses the Government's aim of ensuring that the measure is cost effective, and that the target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions does not lead to the use of unsustainably produced biofuels and is consistent with the biofuels target for 2020 endorsed in the Spring Council Declaration.
Committee rose at thirteen minutes past Five o’clock.
 
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