A coalition including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and WWF, is warning that the government risks implementing a poorly thought out biofuels policy that creates more problems than it solves.
Their ads feature a fuel pump held to the head of an orangutan. 'Tell the government to choose the right biofuel,' it says, 'or the orangutan gets it.'
Biofuels can be used in place of petrol, or gasoline, and diesel. Because biofuels can be produced from crops, they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and can play a role in reducing emissions from transport.
But the environmental groups fear that the demand for biofuels created by the government's proposed standard would lead to the clearing of the tropical rainforests of Indonesia - the last stronghold of the endangered orangutan.
The government's proposal, known as the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, RTFO, could, in its present form, 'damage the climate and destroy some of the world's last remaining rainforests,' the groups said in a statement Wednesday.
The RTFO means that by 2010, five percent of all transport fuel sold in the UK will come from a renewable source. The measure is predicted to save one million metric tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide each year by 2010.
Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman said, 'The Obligation will play a key role in making road transport fuels greener. In carbon terms, it's expected to be the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road by 2010.'
The coalition says the RTFO could, 'lead to biofuel production causing the destruction of rainforests and wetlands, not only threatening endangered habitats and species but also releasing far more carbon into the atmosphere than could ever hope to be saved by replacing fossil fuels.'
The Department for Transport says the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation will be one of the main policy instruments in the transport sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase the use of renewable fuels, helping to meet Britain's international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol and the EU Biofuels Directive.
It will also contribute to the diversity and security of the UK’s transport fuel supply, and will offer new opportunities to the UK’s biofuel and farming industries, the government says.
The obligation will require road transport fuel suppliers either to ensure that a specified percentage of their sales is made up of fuels from renewable sources, or to discharge their obligation in other specified ways.
The obligation does not differentiate between different renewable transport fuels. Obligated suppliers will be able to meet their obligation by supplying any combination of bioethanol, biodiesel, biogas and any other renewable road transport fuel.
The level of the obligation will be equivalent to 2.5 percent of total road transport fuel sales in 2008/9, rising to 3.75 percent in 2009/10 and five percent in 2010-11 and beyond.
The RTFO is intended to create a strong and stable market for biofuels, and, in the longer term, other renewable fuels, in the UK. By the time the level of the RTFO reaches five percent, it will have created a demand for 2.5 billion liters (660.4 million gallons) of biofuel a year.
The Department for Transport estimates this could save as much as a million metric tons of carbon a year, which would be the equivalent, in carbon terms, of taking a million cars off the road.
But the coalition says the the environmental costs would outweigh the benefits of the policy.
'A rush for biofuels could considerably accelerate the destruction of habitats and loss of wildlife in areas where it already at considerable risk,' said Dr. Mark Avery, conservation director at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
'The contribution forests are making to tackling climate change, as well as harboring rare wildlife, is more than enough to make their protection a priority,' he said. 'Without environmental standards, biofuels are a green con.'
The coalition is demanding that the obligation be tightened up so that biofuel producers must meet minimum greenhouse gas and sustainability standards, with environmental audits of the whole life-cycle of the fuels, from growing the crop to burning it in the car.
'The risks are so great that biofuels should be the last option to reduce transport emissions, not the first,' said Ed Matthew from Friends of the Earth. 'Not only has the government got its priorities wrong, its biofuels proposals are so weak that they are in real danger of increasing global warming emissions, not reducing them. The word is incompetent.'
The coalition's ads ask members of the public to write to government and demand tough, compulsory standards.
Dr. Douglas Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said, 'In its current form, this proposal is complacent. It could see biofuel production wrecking the climate rather than helping it, at a time when scientists are warning us that we need to slash emissions to avoid dangerous global warming. The government must sort out this botched plan or risk losing the value that biofuels could offer.'
John Alker, senior public affairs officer at WWF-UK said, 'A climate change policy that potentially increases rather than cuts CO2 emissions is clearly a nonsense. Biofuels could offer part of the solution to climate change - but government needs to get this policy right in order to do so.'
The government consultation on the draft Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order closes one week from today. The draft RTFO is online at: http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/open/draftrtfo/.