Boris Johnson pumps the brakes on drive for green fuel

Prime Minister calls for reduction in use of biofuel, despite it being a key plank of his government's net zero ambitions

Boris Johnson wants to reduce the amount of biofuel used in the UK, so the land can instead be used for producing more food Credit: Dan Kitwood/AP

Boris Johnson will relax the push for British motorists to use green fuel, amid concerns that the drive could contribute to the cost of living crisis

The Prime Minister wants to reduce the amount of biofuel used in the UK, despite it being a key plank of his government's net zero ambitions.

The production of biofuel uses wheat and maize. The Prime Minister wants the land to instead be used for producing more food, in bid to combat soaring prices.

He will call on G7 leaders to review their own biofuel use, in a move that could help mitigate the global food crisis.

Mr Johnson said: “While Vladimir Putin continues his futile and unprovoked war in Ukraine and cravenly blockades millions of tonnes of grain, the world’s poorest people are inching closer to starvation. From emergency food aid to reviewing our own biofuel use, the UK is playing its part to address this pernicious global crisis.”

Biofuel makes up a 10th of E10 petrol, which since last summer has been sold at forecourts as standard in a move to lower transport emissions.

On Thursday, sources said cutting the use of crop-based biofuels would mean the requirement for the greener fuel to be the main offering at petrol stations would have to be temporarily dropped.

Tory backbenchers said the push for E10, which is more expensive than alternatives because it is less efficient, had raised costs for consumers with little benefit at a time of soaring fuel and food prices.

Craig Mackinlay, chairman of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of MPs, said: "The whole E10 debate has been quite scandalous as it was, because you end up with poorer consumption and older vehicles suffering a variety of mechanical problems.

"We need to look at a lot of these greenwash proposals and consider: Are they truly green? Wouldn't production of foodstuffs be a more primary goal for the land?

"I think the Government would be well served to look very carefully at many of these environmental policies again.”

However, government sources stressed that the primary purpose of the Prime Minister’s review was to ensure people in poor countries have access to grain.

Britain sources more than 20 per cent of the ethanol used to create its biofuel from Ukraine. Land used globally to grow crops for the UK biofuel market could feed 3.5 million people if it was converted to food.

The UK is pushing for discussions on cutting the amount of biofuel used globally by 10 per cent to be on the agenda at Sunday’s G7 summit.

But the Government could also act unilaterally to reduce the amount of crops used in British biofuels.

Dustin Benton, policy director at the Green Alliance and a former adviser on the Government’s food strategy, said reducing crop-based biofuels would almost certainly mean temporarily lifting the E10 requirement on forecourts, because the UK would not be able to pivot to alternative sources of biofuel quickly enough.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is understood to be wary of the move because of the impact on vehicle emissions in the short-term. The move would have to be offset by a faster take-up of electric vehicles to avoid damaging the UK’s net zero ambitions.

Net zero policy 'unviable'

The move would be the latest shift in the Government’s approach to net zero as it tackles the cost of living crisis.

On Thursday, Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, said he would consider the case for fracking next week, after the results of a scientific review opened in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

He has also defended the development of a new gas field in the North Sea, arguing the need to be “realistic about our energy needs now”.

Steve Baker MP, a member of Net Zero Watch, said: "Once again we see that net zero policy is economically, socially and politically unviable.

“However much we desire to look after our environment, we also need to implement policies that stack up with reality."

Environmental groups argue that moving away from fossil fuels is the only way for the UK to secure energy independence in the short-term and reduce energy costs.

Mr Benton said cutting the use of biofuel would not necessarily have a negative environmental impact.

“There's a really easy solution here,” he said. “And that is to increase the pace at which we pick up electric vehicles, and of course, public transport, trains, all the rest of it.”