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Widely differing views on land use threaten effectiveness of biofuels

September 11, 2009

The concept of indirect land-use change (ILUC) caused by biofuel production looks like playing a complicated role in the EU’s rules relating to the use of biofuels across Europe.

An informal consultation by the Commission on how member states and some non-EU countries view ILUC provided widely differing views on how to address ILUC when calculating emissions from biofuels. ILUC refers to the wider impact on use of land caused when other land is used for growing biofuel crops, while other agricultural production is displaced. Assessing its impact is important to ensure biofuels really do reduce carbon emissions and do not indirectly increase them.

Some countries (notably Denmark, the Netherlands and Great Britain) want to include a strong ILUC factor in the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels specified in the EU renewable energy directive, while other countries (including Austrian and Spain) say there is insufficient scientific evidence on the impact of different types of biofuels on ILUC.

The latest contribution to scientific evidence about biofuels has again called for caution in which forms of biofuel production are encouraged.

An article in Science magazine by researchers from five American universities looks at what it calls ‘the food, energy and environment trilemma’. It says biofuels can be produced in large quantities and can have multiple benefits, but only if they come from feedstocks produced with low life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, as well as minimal competition with food production.