If left unchanged, EU legislation promoting biofuels for transport will lead to higher, not lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. T&E and other environmental organisations are campaigning for Europe to address the environmental impact of indirect land use change (ILUC) caused by biofuel production. Read the drivers & impacts of Europe's biofuel policy, download our briefing on ILUC and take a look at our report into how the EU could manage the impact of an ILUC-based policy on existing biofuels production.

What's happening?

Under the terms of the EU's Renewable Energy Directive (RED), EU member states are required to source 10% of transport energy from renewable sources, mainly biofuels, by 2020.  We also have another law, the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), that has a carbon intensity reduction target of 6% until 2020. The FQD and RED include ‘sustainability criteria’ that dictate the minimum CO2 savings biofuels should achieve compared with fossil fuels in order to qualify for the scheme (and receive state subsidies). These criteria account only for the emissions that occur when land is converted specifically to grow biofuel crops (direct land-use change). However it does not currently contain measures to calculate the impact of indirect land-use change (ILUC). The European Commission proposed in October 2012 to introduce mandatory reporting of ILUC emissions, thereby acknowledging the climate impact of indirect emissions from biofuels. However, because it didn't include “ILUC factors” as part of the sustainability criteria, the Commission missed the opportunity to correctly account greenhouse gas emissions for biofuels and steer bioenergy production in a sustainable direction. Instead of correct accounting, the Commission proposed to limit the consumption of biofuels from food crops to current levels of around 5% of the target. 

In July 2013, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament corrected the Commission proposal by voting in favour of fully accounting for these 'indirect emissions' from biofuels that can count toward the 10% renewable energy target in transport by 2020. In September 2013, the full Parliament voted to limit the use of land-based biofuels to 6% and supported full accounting of ILUC emissions in the FQD. But MEPs failed to give a negotiating mandate to the rapporteur, which would have enabled all institutions to conclude the agreement before the next year’s elections. The proposal instead went to the Council of Ministers for the first reading. The Council voted on a weak compromise proposed by the Lithuanian presidency in December 2013, but rejected the deal. This means the file is now in the hands of the Greek presidency, who voted on a compromise in June 2014. The proposal now goes to the Parliament for a second reading. Read our briefing on the subject, our press release on the Council vote, and our blogpost explaining why this vote is a crop-out.

Key statistics

EU transport emissions (2013) 25% of EU’s overall greenhouse gas emissions
Biofuels and the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) EU member states are required to source 10% of transport energy from renewable sources, mainly biofuels, by 2020
What is ILUC (indirect land-use change)? The RED has generated greater demand for biofuels and therefore for agricultural land. Carbon stores such as forests and peatlands are converted to crop fields, which results in a loss of biodiversity and increases in greenhouse gas emissions. These indirect emissions are currently not accounted for when biofuels are considered for the RED.
How much land will be converted? 4.7-7.9 million hectares of new land will be converted to meet EU biofuels demand by 2020 = the size of Ireland!
Extra emissions due to ILUC 313 – 646 million tonnes of CO2 between 2011-2020. This is the same as adding 14-29 million cars to EU roads by 2020
Expected impact of biofuels on global food prices by 2021 Vegetable oils price up 36%
Corn price up 22%
Sugar price up 21%

Biofuels: The Butterfly Effect

EU biofuels policy is having a devastating 'Butterfly Effect'. Here's how we can end it.