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Renewable Energy Directive

Volume 524: debated on Thursday 10 March 2011

1. What recent representations he has received on the sustainability criteria in the renewable energy directive related to transport fuels; and if he will make a statement. (45274)

I have received recent representations on the renewable energy directive biofuels sustainability criteria from a number of non-governmental organisations, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. We share some of their concerns regarding the sustainability of some biofuels. For that reason, we propose to take a cautious approach, as set out in the consultation we have launched today on proposals to implement the transport elements of the directive and the associated fuel quality directive.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer. This morning I spoke with the owner of the 160-year-old haulage company, Joseph Rice, in my constituency of Gloucester, which is going into receivership. He believes that others might follow before long. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government should do what they can to help the sector, whether through incentives on biofuel or by reviewing things such as vehicle excise duty and road charges?

As my hon. Friend will know, matters relating to vehicle excise duty are for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. We believe that the future of the road freight sector depends on being able to decarbonise it, and at the moment the only viable option for decarbonisation is biofuel. Therefore, we believe that it is important that we prioritise available sustainable feedstocks for biofuels for use in sectors where no alternative viable options are available.

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has said that there will be a consultation, because there was concern that we would rush towards implementation of the directive without people being able to discuss the related issues—but I am slightly concerned that he says that there are no sustainable alternatives to biofuels. As part of the consultation, will he seek advice on other suggestions being made by people working in this field so that we can move away from using biofuels and the subsequent impact on food crops and deforestation?

Our concerns are twofold: our approach is, of course, technology-neutral, but if alternative and sustainable solutions are suggested, we will be happy to look at them, and our focus must be on ensuring that the European Union, in its enthusiasm for biofuels, does not lose sight of the negative carbon impacts that some approaches to biofuel can have. We want to look at the whole lifecycle carbon effects of biofuel use, particularly the indirect land use effects.

I am glad that the Secretary of State has mentioned indirect land use impacts, and I welcome the statement made this morning by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), which explicitly highlighted the risks of indirect land use change as a result of imported biofuels. I ask for a joined-up approach to biofuels across Government. What discussion has the Secretary of State or his Department had with other Departments, particularly the Department for Communities and Local Government?

We have very regular discussions with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Energy and Climate Change and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.