Bad biofuels will still count towards climate targets under new proposal

The Commission has published its eagerly awaited proposal to address indirect land-use change (Iluc) impacts of biofuels production. But the proposal stops short of tackling emissions from Iluc, saying such emissions must be reported but do not affect fuel producers’ ability to count biofuels as part of their renewable energy and climate targets. T&E has called this a missed opportunity to get the EU’s biofuels policy right.

Biofuels have been promoted in recent years, largely because of the belief that they will help reduce transport’s impact on the environment, and particularly its contribution to climate change. But the indirect effects of growing crops to make fuel have brought into question whether biofuels really do help in this fight. Scientific research has increasingly shown that, in many cases, biofuels add to the problem.

At the end of 2010, after two years of denying that growing crops for fuel can indirectly affect the use of land, and then saying there was insufficient evidence to prove Iluc exists, the Commission finally recognised that Iluc could undermine the GHG benefits of biofuels. After much procrastination, a proposal to address Iluc was published earlier this month. However, instead of tackling Iluc emissions, the proposal says emissions from Iluc must only be monitored as a requirement under the EU fuel quality directive. The Commission is proposing to require fuels made from crops to make up no more than 5% of total transport fuels, but under the existing proposal, these could still be high-carbon fuels.

T&E fuels manager Nusa Urbancic said: ‘While the EC proposal limits today's bad practices, it does not fundamentally steer future bioenergy in a sustainable direction, because it still does not account for Iluc emissions from biofuels. This creates risks and uncertainties for the environment as well as for investors.’

Biofuels are regulated under two EU laws: the renewable energy directive and the fuel quality directive. Both set targets for 2020 that in effect can only be achieved with the use of alternative fuels. This has led to governments subsidising the production of biofuels that, because of Iluc, risk hindering the battle against climate change, not helping it. The best example is biodiesel: if Iluc emissions were taken into account, most biodiesel on the market today would be worse than regular diesel, largely because of indirect emissions from deforestation caused by more demand for vegetable oil.

Urbancic added: ‘To paraphrase Keynes’s famous quote, the Commission has chosen to be precisely wrong rather than roughly right. We hope that ministers and MEPs will have more courage to deal with the problem at hand.’

The proposal will now enter the co-decision procedure with the European Parliament and the Council to have their say.