EU has no need for harmful biofuels

A report commissioned by four environmental organisations says Europe can effectively meet its current renewable energy target in transport without the need for harmful biofuels. With growing concerns that the current EU biofuel policy will increase greenhouse gas emissions, the report presents an alternative scenario that promotes the use of truly sustainable biofuels, maximises non-liquid sources of energy, and reduces overall energy consumption. T&E says the first step towards this clearly improved scenario must be to change current EU policy so it accounts for the full carbon footprint of biofuels.

Under current EU obligations, 10% of Europe’s transport fuels must come from renewable sources by 2020, while fuel producers must reduce the carbon content of their fuels by 6%. But the absence of any criteria to account for the environmental and social damage caused by growing crops for powering cars – so-called ‘indirect land-use change’ (ILUC) – means that meeting the 10% renewable sources target may make no contribution to reducing greenhouse gases. The Commission’s own research shows that current biodiesel, which accounts for the great majority of biofuels on today’s market, is typically worse for tackling climate change than fossil diesel.

The Commission put forward a proposal last October that was supposed to address the issue of ILUC. But the proposal will not only mean that biofuels that increase, not decrease,  greenhouse gas emissions can still be used for meeting the 10% renewable energy target, but also that their consumption will be allowed to grow further from today’s levels.

Alarmed at this development, four international environmental NGOs – Greenpeace, BirdLife Europe, EEB and T&E – asked the Dutch research institute, CE Delft, to look at ways of meeting the EU’s targets without encouraging the production of damaging biofuels. CE Delft’s report, Sustainable Alternatives for Land-based Biofuels in the EU, was launched last month. It recommends a major EU policy shift towards prioritising energy efficiency and speeding up the development of renewable electricity, as well as sustainable biofuels such as those produced from waste and residues. And it says existing targets could be met with no, or very few, biofuels made from crops grown on land.

T&E clean fuels manager Nusa Urbancic said: ‘The Commission’s reluctance to accept the full implications of indirect land-use change is becoming legendary, but it makes no sense. If it is trying to defend employment in the existing biodiesel industry, it should look at how many jobs could be created in the industries that would benefit from a shift in EU fuels policy towards energy efficiency and renewable electricity. This is why the first step has to be for the Commission to change its current proposal on biofuels so it properly accounts for the full carbon footprint of biofuels, including emissions from ILUC.’

The Commission’s proposal will be discussed by EU environment and energy ministers later this month, and then by MEPs.


Link to CE Delft report: