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Renewable Energy's Achilles Heel

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Like the prime minister's speech at this week's Clean Energy event, much of the media coverage on energy has remained delightfully vague about renewables. And innocent bystanders could be left thinking that - as long as costs are reduced - a shift to renewables is an absolute no-brainer. And indeed, the case for most forms of renewables is clear and convincing.

But in our clamour to adopt renewables and benefit British investors, we risk losing sight of renewable energy's Achilles heel: biofuels.

Following a great deal of speculation, the Prime Minister did after all deliver a mini-speech on the environment at the Clean Energy Ministerial. Surrounded by energy ministers from around the world and business representatives from the UK, the Prime Minister extolled the virtues of renewable energy as being great for the environment and great for business: "We urgently need a more diverse, cleaner mix of energy sources that will give us energy security without causing irreparable damage to the planet." If there was anything new in what he said, then it was probably his emphasis on the need to make renewables financially sustainable, suggesting partnerships with business to drive down costs.

David Cameron words follow a series of speeches, articles and announcements by the Government, drawing attention to the UK's renewables record and the importance of diversifying UK energy sources.

Among these is William Hague's Huffington post blog this week in which he highlighted how "Rising demand is carrying us into an age of higher and more volatile prices for energy, food and raw materials...Climate change is amplifying these stresses, and will do so increasingly."

Contrary to initial hopes that biofuels would help us tackle climate change, the UK's planned use of biofuels will make climate change worse by increasing UK greenhouse gas emissions. This will potentially having the same effect as adding - yes adding - another six million cars to Britain's roads. Biofuels may be renewable, in the sense that you can keep growing more, but they are clearly not low carbon.

At the same time, according to a new ActionAid report published this week, biofuels are playing a key role in rising world food prices, pushing millions more people into hunger. The unprecedented rush for land and water for biofuels that is being witnessed around the globe - already affecting an area the size of Germany - is undermining the livelihoods of poor communities and putting extra strain on precious water resources.

Using biofuels to power our cars is not a recipe for global sustainability; it won't protect our planet for our children and grandchildren. Instead, it is a recipe for hunger, social tension and even violence and instability. Biofuels will also cost consumers more. They will add £10-14 billion to UK motorists' fuel bills between 2010 and 2020.

We believe that the UK government can and should continue to show leadership in and benefit from the transition to a low carbon economy. But in the process, it should face up to the fact that biofuels have no role to play in that transition.

Around the Web

Biofuels, Biodiesel and Ethanol - The New York Times

Biofuel Facts, Biofuel Information - National Geographic

Biofuels - Solid, liquid, or gas fuels made from biomass

Biofuels | Environment | The Guardian