Environmental groups say government decision to drop biofuels mandate is an “enormous relief”

By Liz Kivi

Don’t Burn Our Future supporters dressed as “angry foods” to present a petition opposing the Sustainable Biofuels Obligation to the government in December last year.

Environmental groups, motoring and fossil fuel lobbyists, and opposition parties have all welcomed the government’s decision to drop the biofuels mandate.

But the Green Party is warning that the mandate was expected to deliver 50% of the transport-related emissions reduction target – about nine million tonnes of CO2-e by 2035. It is unclear where those savings are now going to come from.

When announcing the change last night, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ comments could be interpreted as putting the cost of living crisis ahead of the climate crisis. “The mandate would have increased the price of fuel, and given the pressure on households that’s not something I’m prepared to do,” he said.

Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said Select Committee submissions on the bill showed major concerns around the ability to source truly sustainable biofuel to meet the mandate.

“The decision to stop work on the biofuels mandate must be followed with urgent action to accelerate the shift to cleaner, more affordable transport alternatives.

“The onus is on Ministers now to come up with a plan that will rapidly accelerate investment in low carbon and affordable transport options that are good for communities and the climate.”

ACT leader David Seymour said the policy was “hare-brained” from the start. “We now ask Labour, where will that nine million tonnes of emission reduction come from, or has Jacinda’s generation’s ‘nuclear free moment’ truly passed?”

The National Party had also opposed the bill, preferring to rely solely on the Emissions Trading Scheme to combat emissions.

Environmentalists “thrilled and relieved”

Jake Roos, spokesperson for Don’t Burn Our Future, a group set up solely to oppose the bill, said the decision was an “enormous relief”. 

“We campaigned hard for months, and we’re both thrilled and relieved to have won. As we told the Environment Select Committee last week, this bill would have been all pain – in the form of increased fuel and food prices and biodiversity loss – and no gain to helping the climate crisis at all. In fact, it would have made it worse.

“The evidence from overseas tells us that such obligations cause emissions to increase through tropical deforestation triggered by the extra demand for arable land, because biofuels are made from food crops like palm oil and soy.

“The policy would have forced New Zealanders to spend billions burning food, boosting fossil fuel companies’ profits, while delaying real climate action, like more public and active transport, electric vehicles and wind and solar energy to power them,” Roos said.

Greenpeace Aotearoa had also supported the campaign, hosting a 3000-strong petition on its community platform and signing on to the Don’t Burn Our Future submission.

Energy industry says biofuels still needed

Energy Resources Aotearoa welcomed the news as giving the industry certainty, but said there was still a role for biofuels in New Zealand’s energy mix. 

John Carnegie, Energy Resources Aotearoa chief executive said that the mandate required firms to invest in processes to ensure a growing percentage of liquid fuels came from biofuels – and with the proposed mandate coming into force from April 2024, businesses were well-advanced in their plans for compliance.

“It’s likely there will be a role for biofuels in the future and the cost of biofuels is expected to come down through economies of scale when producers can increase production.

“However, until then, and given the current cost of living pressures, the Government’s focus should be on ensuring that no regulatory barriers exist to the uptake of biofuels, where they are commercially viable and meet changing consumer needs.”

MTA welcomes change

The Motor Trade Association (MTA) said the decision to scrap the biofuels mandate was a win for cash-strapped Kiwis.

In its submission on the bill last month, the MTA said the mandate was estimated to increase fuel prices by 5 to 10 cents per litre, and that.it would disproportionately affect households already on tight budgets.

Republished with permission from Carbon News

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