Biofuels: a giant con-trick says the OECD

The EU’s headlong rush to convert enormous swathes of farmland into plantations of oilseed rape, corn and other crops grown for use as alternatives to fossil fuels is a giant con-trick, according to a report by the OECD that has been leaked to the Financial Times.

It has long been suspected that the EU’s enthusiasm for biofuels is more a sop to the farm lobby and a way of giving the public the idea that something is being done about climate change. The reality is that biofuels policy on both sides of the Atlantic are ultimately bad for taxpayers who foot the bill, bad for poor people who will have to pay more for their food and do close to nothing to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Now it looks as though the influential economists at the OECD have reached the same conclusion. According to the FT and Reuters, the report states that:

“The current push to expand the use of biofuels is creating unsustainable tensions that will disrupt markets without generating significant environmental benefits… When acidification, fertiliser use, biodiversity loss and toxicity of agricultural pesticides are taken into account, the overall environmental impacts of ethanol and biodiesel can very easily exceed those of petrol and mineral diesel… Governments should cease to create new mandates for biofuels and investigate ways to phase them out.”

The report says that only three kinds of biofuels are preferable to oil: Brazilian sugar, which converts easily to ethanol, the by-products of paper-making, and used vegetable oil. None of these feature prominently in the EU’s plans for biofuels. Not surprisingly, the OECD advocates a carbon tax as the optimal way to reduce carbon emissions.

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