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// Government still committed to targets for biofuel
THE GOVERNMENT remains committed to achieving ambitious short-terms targets for including biofuel in all petrol and diesel, despite not being in a position to guarantee that the fuels it imports are not harmful to the environment and are not driving up world food prices.
The Department of Energy this week confirmed that it was still on track to reach its desired quotas for biofuels comprising 2 per cent of all transport fuels by the end of this year, and 5.75 per cent by the end of 2010.
New details of the Government's Biofuels Obligations (compulsory targets) will be published shortly.
In the longer-term the Government has also signed up to the European Union target of a 10 per cent biofuel mix in transport fuel by 2020 - this is one of the main tenets of Europe's ambitions to be a world leader in climate change by reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent by that date.
However, a number of EU member states, primarily Britain, have questioned the targets on the basis that the so-called first-generation biofuels being produced at present (see panel) are actually adding to, not reducing, greenhouse gas emissions because rainforests are being cleared to produce energy crops.
Biofuels are also being blamed for driving up world food prices because crops are being grown for fuel, not food.
Last month the Bolivian president Evo Morales said that biofuels were making food too expensive for the poor.
"How important is life and how important are cars?" he asked. "So I say life first and cars second."
Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan has said that he has long subscribed to strong doubts over first-generation biofuels and has described it as a "clear problem". Mr Ryan says he strongly supports European Commission's proposals that sustainability monitoring be put in place on any biofuels bought or sold in the EU.
However, no such monitoring takes place for biofuels being imported into the EU at present.
To meet the 5.75 per cent and 10 per cent target, the Government will have to rely on heavy imports of biofuel, with no certainty over its origin.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Ryan accepted that under current World Trade Organisation rules, Ireland cannot differentiate between biofuels from one country and another.
"We do not have full traceability in place to examine the origin of the supply," said Mr Ryan.
Notwithstanding that difficulty, the Government will press ahead with the targets, on the basis that the European Commission can put strong monitoring in place to ensure that fuels being imported are second-generation biofuels, which are not harmful to the environment and do not drive up food prices.
However, the Opposition says it will be impossible to meet Ireland's 2010 target of 5.75 per cent without relying heavily on first-generation biofuels.
The 5.75 per cent target needs to be reviewed in light of the new information, according to Fine Gael's energy spokesman Simon Coveney.
"We need to look at it urgently. What we need from Mr Ryan is a more radical outlook. Unlike other countries where biofuels displace food, we have a lot of fallow land in Ireland which can be used to produce biofuels without harming the environment or affecting food production.
"The Minister also needs to think beyond biofuels as a solution. Why not change public transport vehicles over to become electric vehicles?" he said.
The Labour Party's energy spokeswoman Liz McManus said it was clear that the current Government biofuels policy lacked cohesion and thought-through strategy.
She said that the impact of biofuels could not be looked at from an environmental perspective alone.
"What concerns me is that it is contributing to food shortage and increasing world poverty. We need a coherent policy that guarantees that the biofuels we use are not contributing to that."
Mr Ryan's spokeswoman told The Irish Times that the department had been in intensive and ongoing negotiations with the commission on this target.
"The department has been particularly mindful of the 'sustainability criteria' attached to our biofuels obligation. The department is arguing that a premium be placed on more sustainable [second-generation] biofuels," she said.
The department is currently compiling figures on the proportion of biofuels produced indigenously and from imports.
Figures on the take-up of the tax incentive for biofuels, the Mineral Oil Tax Relief Scheme, will be made available this week.
© Irish Times 5.05.08