Biofuels: ethical issues


Published 12/04/2011

Report cover
Exhaust emmissions

If the first five principles are respected and if biofuels can play a crucial role in mitigating dangerous climate change then, depending on certain key considerations, there is a duty to develop such biofuels.

Key considerations:

  • Will the costs of the development be out of proportion to the benefits, compared to other major public spending priorities?
  • Are there competing energy sources that might be even better at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while still meeting all the required ethical principles?
  • Is there is an alternative and better use of the crops needed to produce biofuels?
  • Are there areas of uncertainty in the development of a technology, and are there efforts to reduce them?
  • Will the technologies lead to irreversible harms, once they are scaled up?
  • Are the views of those directly affected by the implementation of a technology being considered?
  • Can regulations be applied in a proportionate way?

These questions should be considered as part of a comprehensive analysis of all future energy options. The ethical principles, together with these questions, could be used as a checklist of ‘ethical suitability’ to decide which energy options are most appropriate in the future.

We conclude

UK and EU policy makers and researchers should consider and compare broad energy portfolios rather than individual technology options in isolation, using our ethical principles as a basis for evaluation.