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Former BP chief Lord Browne speaks against alarmism on biofuels

October 23, 2008

Source: Times on line. October 20, 2008

Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor
Biofuels can play a key role in global efforts to tackle climate change, but “media alarmism and misinformation” are damaging their potential, according to Lord Browne of Madingley.

The chairman of the Accenture Global Energy Board and former chief executive of BP told The Times that there was a risk of premature policy changes because of fears that biofuels would indirectly boost greenhouse gas emissions through knock-on effects on land use — a concern that he said was important but was based on science that was new and, therefore, poorly understood.

“The right way to distinguish between good and bad biofuels is by using clear, stable and predictable carbon dioxide and sustainability standards,” Lord Browne said in an e-mailed series of answers to questions set by The Times.

He said that Europe should stick to its stated target of including a 10 per cent mix of biofuels in all vehicle fuel by 2020. Failure to do so would “risk destabilising the investing environment in European renewables for a generation”.

He also called for biofuels to be treated as an emerging global commodity. At present the biofuels market is distorted by a US subsidy on the domestic production of corn ethanol that effectively blocks imports, such as Brazilian sugar-cane ethanol.

Lord Browne, who is also president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said that he strongly supported the call by Lord Turner of Ecchinswell for Britain to slash its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. To get there will require an all-encompassing approach, “taking energy out of our lifestyles, through a revolution in energy efficiency, and taking carbon out of energy, through fundamentally changing the energy mix we use in favour of low-carbon technologies. To achieve both will require a basket of fiscal and regulatory policies and public education.”

Lord Browne also said that Britain was leading the world in its understanding of the science and economics of climate change. He said that the work of Sir David King, Lord Stern and others had led to the formation of a clear blueprint for the steps that the world needs to take to tackle climate change.

“The challenge from here is translating policy prescriptions into action,” he said. “The watchword is delivery, and that will require political leadership that transcends electoral politics and short-term economic cycles. It will also require a great deal of hard, technical and politically unglamorous work.”

He said that the global battle to keep carbon dioxide levels from rising to dangerous levels would require the formation of a new institution, which he called “an international carbon fund”, to oversee the formation of a new market in carbon credits. This would “provide liquidity in emerging international carbon markets and supervise national and regional efforts, which have proliferated in the past decade”.

He said that such a system must be adapted urgently to include deforestation, which is responsible for a fifth of global emissions.

“The key first step is removing the ban on forestry credits in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme,” he said.

Lord Browne expressed confidence that the turmoil in the financial markets would not distract policymakers from reaching a new international climate change deal to follow Kyoto at a United Nations meeting in Copenhagen next year. “There are encouraging signs that climate change remains a political priority,” he said, pointing to the Government's decision to create a new Ministry for Energy and Climate Policy and to make a renewed push on energy efficiency. He also welcomed the European Parliament's proposal to offer financial support for up to 12 carbon capture and storage demonstration projects, which he called “a critical next step for this essential technology”.

Lord Browne said that he believed that the recent fall in the price of oil was being driven by a “malaise from the credit crunch leading to weakening demand expectations. This — coupled with the several hundred thousand barrels of non-Opec production expected to come on-stream in the coming months — is leading to rising spare production capacity and therefore downward pressure on prices.” However, he said that he saw no reason why oil production would not rise, from 86 million barrels per day to perhaps as many as 116 million by 2030, a level that some have disputed.

“The biggest barriers are likely to be above ground, mostly stemming from politics associated with the growing concentration of oil and gas supplies,” he said.

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