European Biofuels Vote Delivers 'Desperately Weak Compromise'

European Biofuels Vote Delivers 'Desperately Weak Compromise'

- by Karl Mathiesen, September 11, 2013. Source: The Guardian

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"119","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 244px; height: 190px; margin-left: 7px; margin-right: 7px; float: left;"}}]]The European parliament has delivered a "desperately weak compromise" on the future of biofuels in Europe that industry says will "curtail jobs and investment".

In a tight vote on the use of biofuels in transport fuel, the parliament approved a 6% cap on the contribution of biofuels to Europe's renewable transport energy target of 10% by 2020.

The policy of replacing petrol and diesel for cars and other vehicles stems from efforts to reduce carbon emissions from Europe's transport sector. But critics argue that while biofuels can look green, they come with unintended consequences. Growing biofuel crops displaces food crops, pushing up food prices, and some biofuels can actually lead to higher carbon emissions than fossil fuels when changes in land use are fully accounted for.

The 6% cap voted for by MEPs represents an increase on the current figure of 4.5%. They also voted to recognise the link between biofuel production and the destruction of forests and other landscapes, but not until 2020. And backed a 2.5% target for so-called second generation biofuels - made from non-food sources such as agricultural waste, sewage and algae.

The European parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee had recommended a 5.5% cap. French MEP Corinne Lepage, who had supported the lower cap, said the 6% agreement was a success and would drive innovation in the biofuels sector and lead to the creation of cleaner biofuels from non-food sources.

"I welcome the parliament vote in favour of correct accounting of greenhouse gas emissions including indirect land use change and in favour of a reasonable cap on first generation biofuels. This is an important signal that support should be focused on advanced biofuels from 2020," said Lepage.

A move to start negotiations with the European council - the body made up of European heads of government - on the legislation failed to pass by one vote. This meant the issue will require a second reading and may not progress further until after next year's European elections in May.

From 2020, the assessment of biofuels will recognise the climate impact caused by switching millions of hectares of crops from food to biofuel production. Independent studies have shown that the subsidy-driven demand for food-based biofuels drives farmers (typically in developing countries) to clear forests and other carbon sequestering landscapes in order to satisfy Europe's car owners.

This process is known as indirect land use change (iLUC). When the carbon impact of deforestation is taken into account, fuels produced from food sources such as palm, soy and rapeseed oil have a net carbon footprint that is heavier than everyday fossil fuels.

The biofuels industry has disputed the science behind iLUC, saying it is still unproven and should not form the basis of European policy.

"We are disappointed with the decision to keep ILUC factors as part of the European approach to biofuels. It is premature to ask for accounting post 2020 knowing that the science will only be reviewed in 2016," said Rob Vierhout, the secretary general of industry group ePure.

Vierholt said the legislation would destabilise the industry and lead to uncertainty.

"It is disappointing to see that the European parliament has decided to significantly reduce the market for conventional biofuels in Europe."

Green groups said that the higher figure would lead to more environmental problems. Robbie Blake, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said the result meant biofuel production from food sources would continue to rise causing further deforestation, climate change and food shortages.

"Under intense pressure from a subsidy-hungry industry, MEPs have at the last minute backed out of a more meaningful reform of Europe's failing biofuels policy," he said.

Nuša Urbančič, clean fuels manager at environmental NGO Transport and Environment said that because iLUC science would not be adopted until 2020: "Europeans will have to keep paying for another seven years for biofuels that pollute more than the fossil fuels they are supposed to replace."

Nur Hidayati, head of campaigns for WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia, said: "The people of Indonesia will be disappointed to hear that the European parliament has failed to agree any meaningful action to reduce Europe's demand for palm oil, which is driving deforestation and conflict in our country."