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Biofuels were once thought to be the answer to global warming, but have actually harmed the environment they were supposed to protect, according to research by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

The drive for ‘eco-friendly’ biofuels has backfired and may be contributing to climate change, says a report.

Plant-based fuels have pushed up food prices, increased deforestation and threatened endangered animals, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics found.

The think-tank said their spread has led to ‘near slavery conditions’ on sugar plantations in the developing world and may have increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Its report branded the UK’s biofuel policies ‘unethical’ and called for guidelines to ensure future ‘green’ fuels do more good than harm.

Most green biofuels come from maize, sugarcane, palm oil and rapeseed oil. By law, at least 5 per cent of petrol and diesel sold on British forecourts must be biofuel by 2013 compared with 3 per cent now.

Under a European Directive, the amount of plant-based fuel in petrol and diesel will have to up to 10 per cent by the end of the decade.

The switch to biofuels was supposed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuel and prevent dangerous man-made climate change.

But the new report shows that their speedy introduction has been a disaster.

Professor Joyce Tait, of Edinburgh University, who led the study, said: ‘Biofuels are one of the only renewable alternatives we have for transport fuels such as petrol and diesel, but current policies and targets that encourage their uptake have backfired badly.

‘The rapid expansion of biofuels production in the developing world has led to problems such as deforestation and the displacement of indigenous people.

‘We want a more sophisticated strategy that considers the wider consequences of biofuel production.’

Vast swathes of rainforest have been cleared to create space for palm oil and sugar beet biofuel crops in Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia – forcing local people to quit their land and threatening endangered species such as orangutans.

The destruction of forests and ploughing of soil has released huge amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise have been locked away in the soil, the report says.

The use of maize to produce fuel in America has helped inflate food prices to record levels, the authors say. Around a third of the recent food price rise can be blamed on biofuels.

And while biofuels are supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they may have a larger carbon footprint “from field to forecourt” than fossil fuels.

The demand for biofuels has also led to ‘near slavery’ conditions in Brazilian sugar plantations.

Daily Mail, 13 April 2011

For more background information on the biofuels fiasco, check the GWPF website