Commission efforts towards more sustainable biofuels, a step in the right direction

T&E welcomes the news that the European Commission is taking a first
step towards resolving the negative impacts of biofuels from food
crops, but urges commissioners to go further by addressing these
impacts via all relevant legislation.

According to legislative proposals leaked to the media last week (1)
the Commission wants to significantly decrease the share of crop-based
fuels in the 10% renewable energy target that the transport sector has
to meet by 2020. T&E deems it a step in the right direction but
encourages the Commission to be more ambitious in determining which
biofuels are really sustainable and in tackling the indirect land use
change issue (2).

The proposals would revise two pieces of legislation, the Renewable
Energy Directive and the Fuel Quality Directive. According to the
leaked drafts, crop-based fuels will be allowed to make up 5% of
transport fuels up to 2020 in the Renewable Energy Directive. They are
currently at about 4.5%.

In addition, the proposals would add greenhouse gas emissions values
resulting from so-called 'indirect land use change' (ILUC) of
different types of biofuels into accounting methods in the Fuel
Quality Directive. This 2009 directive sets a target to reduce the
carbon footprint of transport fuels by 6% by 2020. ILUC emissions of
biodiesel from oil seeds have been demonstrated to be higher than
those from bio-ethanol, made from sugars and cereals. Oil companies
would hence be discouraged from blending biodiesel from food crops in
their diesel, helping to reduce the policy's impact on land resources
and on the price of vegetable oils.

Accounting for the ILUC impact in the Fuel Quality Directive is good
policy-making, which takes account of developments in scientific
knowledge. But T&E urges the Commission to go further by also
accounting for ILUC in sustainability criteria within the Renewable
Energy Directive and for non-food based biofuels.

"We welcome these proposals as they currently stand because they
prevent a further spread of today's unsustainable biofuels," says Nusa
Urbancic, programme manager at Transport & Environment. "After having
dragged its feet for so long, it's encouraging that the Commission
finally seems to take all the accumulated science seriously and is
about to take meaningful action," Urbancic added. "However, while the
draft proposal limits today's bad practices, it does not fundamentally
steer future bioenergy in a sustainable direction, because it still
does not acknowledge ILUC emissions in renewable energy legislation,
and for second-generation biofuels. This creates risks and
uncertainties for the environment as well as for investors."

The science has shown that if the EU does not change course, its
biofuels policy may lead to a conversion of an area up to the size of
Ireland, which would be an equivalent of adding up to 29 million extra
cars on EU roads (3).