BRUSSELS/PARIS Britain still supports a European Union target to get a tenth of the bloc's road transport fuel from renewable sources like biofuels by 2020, a British diplomat who declined to be named said on Wednesday.
But the OECD group of 30 industrialized nations published a report in Paris on Wednesday saying public support for biofuels was costly and that the alternative transport fuel did little in the fight against climate change.
The British diplomat was speaking at the presentation in Brussels of a biofuel report by Ed Gallagher, chair of Britain's Renewable Fuels Agency (RFA), whose report last week prompted London to say it would slow its introduction of biofuels because of indirect effects on deforestation and food prices.
Britain had no plans to scupper the EU's 2020 target, agreed by EU leaders last year and awaiting EU Parliament approval but now under pressure to include tight conditions on social and environmental impacts.
"The UK government still supports the 10 percent target by 2020 but wants the indirect effects of biofuels to be part of the sustainability criteria, and the UK wants a rigorous review of the target in 2013-2014," the diplomat told Reuters.
A recent World Bank report estimated that, alongside drought and speculation, biofuels derived from crops such as grains, oil seeds and sugar were responsible for up to three quarters of recent hikes in food prices which have hurt the world's poorest.
Global demand for agricultural land would soar by 2020 meaning in future all biofuel demand must come from marginal land, including use of hi-tech fuels derived from waste like straw and wood chips instead of food, Gallagher said last week.
"(The EU's) is an aspirational target, rather than a strictly realistic one," he told Reuters on Wednesday. The target may still be achievable using such controls and so-called second generation biofuels, he added.
RFA Chief Executive Nick Goodall told Reuters: "I know of no evidence to suggest that prudent observation of carbon and sustainability standards presents a barrier to the EU achieving its aspirations."
Governments would do better promoting lower energy consumption than subsidizing biofuels to fight climate change, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a report on Wednesday.
Biofuels were originally hailed as a low carbon-emitting substitute for fossil fuels, but have since come under fire for causing carbon emissions as a result of intensive farming practices or contributing to forest clearances.
The OECD report estimated that support policies including tax incentives, blending targets and trade restrictions in the EU, United States and Canada would rise to $25 billion a year in 2013-17, for a reduction of less than 1 percent of emissions from transport in 2015, from $11 billion in 2006.
Ethanol produced using sugar cane in Brazil yielded the best carbon emissions cuts versus conventional fossil fuels, it said, estimating 80 percent carbon cuts using sugar cane compared to 40-55 percent using vegetable oil as in the EU, and less than 30 percent using ethanol from U.S. corn.
Biofuel industry groups wrote an open letter to oil producers group OPEC on Wednesday underlining the need for alternative fuels at a time of record oil prices.
The groups' advertisement in the Financial Times did not address criticisms of biofuels' negative impacts on forests, land access and food prices.
"That can be true," Robert Vierhout, secretary-general of the European Bioethanol Fuel Association (eBIO), told Reuters when asked whether using more European oil seeds for biofuels could indirectly raise demand for Asian palm oil, threatening more tropical deforestation.
(Writing by Gerard Wynn; editing by James Jukwey)