December 12, 2013

Food vs. Fuel – why it shouldn't be a debate

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There is currently continued debate as to whether 1st generation biofuels, primarily derived from food crops such as corn, maize and sugar, should be used a feedstocks for liquid transportation fuels as it is claimed that they raise the price of food as a result.

Conceptually, this can be quite a strong argument. Why should we, when there are large areas of the global population suffering from starvation, produce fuels for our cars that can be used as cheaper food sources? The logic is not difficult to follow. Reports emerged in the latter part of the last decade that would certainly back that viewpoint up.

However, both the World Bank and ABF Economics have stated that the rise in food prices between 2004 - 2009 was largely due to the corresponding rise in oil prices and not the emergence of ethanol as a biofuel. The World Bank in particular made the following statement:

The effect of biofuels on food prices has not been as large as originally thought...We conclude that a stronger link between energy and non‐energy commodity prices is likely to have been the dominant influence on developments in commodity, and especially food, markets.

There is currently no direct correlation between governmental policies such as the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) in the US and the rise of food prices. MEPs had agreed to reduce their target of first generation biofuels in transportation down from 10% to 6% with a focus shifting to more advanced, second generation fuels like cellulosic ethanol or fuels derived from biomass waste.

It is pleasing that agreement has been failed to be reached by the EU Energy ministers this week. Despite the protests, the current target of 10% remains. We should be building upon this target, based on the evidence, not reducing it. Biofuels currently account for less than 2% of all of the land used by grain / oilseed crops. Land usage neither food prices are an issue long-term. The higher implementation of the readily-available first generation fuels would benefit society in a number of metrics, not least convincing the public that green alternatives are a viable way of life for our collective future. By continuing to perpetuate the food vs fuel myth, we are only harming that implementation and risking our ability for future generations to be able to sustain our current way of life. Whilst investment into advanced fuels for the future should be applauded (e.g. use of waste materials that therefore avoid landfill), we should also be exploiting what is technologically ready for us today.

December 11, 2013

Reducing emissions targets would halt development

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Recent reports have suggested that Chancellor George Osbourne is considering cutting emissions targets based on the UK's 4th 'Carbon Budget'. As a result, he asked the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) to review the appropriateness of the budget. Arguably driving this review is the problem that current low carbon policies will add around £100 to the average household bill over the coming years. With energy prices so prominent in today's political arena, politicians are under extreme pressure from the public and the media to reduce prices.

Fortunately, the CCC have stated that there is no reason to relax these targets and have mentioned that there are potential savings in the region of £100bn when considering the current price of gas. There is a concern that this figure does not include the cost of adding to the existing infrastructure, particularly when considering wind power and reliability issues.

One of the biggest drivers for sustainable development is governmental policy and legislation. A drop in the targets will reduce the level of urgency required in order to meet them, slowing down progress in the field. As a nation, the UK lacks in resources to produce energy (overall a net energy importer of approx 84 million tonnes of oil equivalent in 2012)1 and must focus on developing our own supplies through a combination of technologies to become more energy secure in the long-term future. It is only through planning and investment that we will be able to achieve that security and reducing targets will only restrict us from achieving that goal.


1DECC Foreign Trade Statistics

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