EU fails to guarantee emissions savings from biofuels

The EU has agreed on the conditions for a massive increase in biofuel sales in Europe but has failed to guarantee that any greenhouse gas savings will be achieved as a result.

The so-called 'sustainability criteria' that form part of two new laws on renewable energy and fuel quality in Europe were agreed late last night in discussions between the European Parliament, member state representatives and the Commission. (1)

The fundamental issue of indirect land use change (ILUC) was postponed with no legally-binding guarantee of it being accounted for in the future.

Increased demand for land, and displacement of existing agricultural production can lead to, for example, conversion of forests for agricultural use, resulting in substantial greenhouse gas emissions. The consequences of ILUC can be the most important factor in assessing a biofuel's environmental impact. The result could be biofuels sold in Europe that actually create more greenhouse gas emissions over their production lifecycle than conventional sources of petrol and diesel.

Nusa Urbancic of T&E said: "This week the EU has taken two steps forwards and two steps back. Last night it agreed criteria for a massive boost to biofuels worldwide, with no guarantees whatsoever of genuine emissions savings. Earlier this week it failed to deliver a strong new car fuel efficiency law that would have guaranteed emissions reductions. These two laws together will mean inefficient cars running on potentially harmful biofuels: the exact opposite of what was needed."

For the second time in a week the European Parliament's more pro-environment position has been savaged by member states when negotiations entered the final stages.

The European Parliament's industry committee had proposed a 'correction factor' that would have meant indirect land use change would be accounted for after 2011, and would have given a major incentive for the EU to develop a methodology to take account of it. But the correction factor was kicked out of the final agreement leaving only a call for the European Commission to report on the issue in the future.

The European Commission has in recent months played down the findings of numerous scientific studies that have warned of the importance of accounting for ILUC. (2)

Earlier in the week, the strong line taken by the European Parliament's environment committee was largely destroyed by member states in final negotiations on Europe's car CO2 emissions law. Short term targets, deadlines and penalties were all weakened relative to the Parliament's position, along with a number of loopholes that effectively postponed genuine improvements in car fuel efficiency for another decade.

(1) The fuel quality directive was agreed last month, the main body of the renewable energy directive is yet to be agreed.
(2) T&E has compiled a summary of scientific reports that call for ILUC to be accounted for.