• Biofuels targets are ‘a dangerous dead end’

    The EU strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport fuels is in disarray today following the European Commission's proposal to massively increase biofuel use, according to environmental groups BirdLife International and Transport and Environment (T&E). Whereas both organisations strongly support the Commission’s proposal of a 20% target for renewable energy by 2020, they argue that the 10% biofuels target is a dangerous dead end.

    [mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]The EU announcement comes despite repeated warnings from a wide range of authoritative figures and organisations, including the Commission’s own scientific body (the Joint Research Centre), that many biofuels do not result in greenhouse gas emissions savings compared with conventional oil and that there are grave additional environmental and social consequences from their production. (1)

    Dr. Clairie Papazoglou, Head of the European Division of BirdLife International said, “It is difficult to understand why the Commission is pushing forward so strongly with a deeply flawed policy, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the risks greatly outweigh the benefits.”

    Bizarrely, the plan comes one year after the Commission proposed a much better system for guaranteeing greenhouse gas emission reductions from transport fuel. The draft EU Fuel Quality Directive proposes an obligatory 10% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from transport fuel production between 2011 and 2020. EU environment ministers and the European Parliament’s Environment Committee have already pledged support for that proposal making the biofuels target not only misplaced but also redundant. (2)

    Jos Dings, director of Transport and Environment (T&E) said: “There is no environmental reason for maintaining these obsolete biofuel commitments when the Commission already has a sensible plan to cut emissions from all transport fuel production. It just doesn’t make sense to single out one type of fuel and promote it regardless of everything we now know about the consequences. The agriculture industry and the car lobby love biofuels regardless of the environmental impact, but thankfully the rest of the world is finally waking up to the dangers: it’s high time the Commission did too.”

    Notes to editors:

    (1) Selected recent expert quotes concerning the impacts of the use of biofuels:

    Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Biofuels in the European context – facts, uncertainties and recommendations, JRC Working Paper, December 2007

    ‘It cannot be asserted that the net [greenhouse gas] effect would be positive’

    ‘The net employment effects can be considered neutral or close to neutral’

    University of California, Berkeley, Greenhouse gas emissions from indirect land use change, Professor Michael O’Hare, presentation for CARB LCFS (Low Carbon Fuel Standard) Working Group 3, Sacramento, CA, January 17, 2008

    ‘If these [indirect land use change] values are used, most biofuels have higher GHG emissions than do fossil fuels.’

    UK House of Commons, Environmental Audit Committee, Are biofuels sustainable ? London, January 2008

    ‘The Government and EU should not have pursued targets to increase the use of biofuels in the absence of robust sustainability standards and mechanisms to prevent damaging land use change.‘

    ‘The EAC wants a moratorium on biofuel targets.‘

    OECD Round Table on Sustainable Development, Biofuels: is the cure worse than the disease?, Richard Doornbosch and Ronald Steenblik, Paris, September 2007

    ‘National governments should cease to create new mandates for biofuels and
    investigate ways to phase them out’

    ‘Certification of biofuels is useful for promoting good practices but cannot be trusted as a safeguard’

    International Transport Forum, Biofuels: linking support to performance, Paris, June 2007

    […] few biofuels seem to offer much in the way of climate protection or oil security and are a very expensive way of addressing these concerns,

    German Environmental Advisory Council (SRU), Climate Change Mitigation by biomass, Berlin, July 2007

    ‘Due to insufficient analysis of … climate change impacts of land use changes, there is a tendency to over-estimate the greenhouse gas reductions that can be attained using biomass for energy production. Largely for this reason, the jury is still out on the issue of biomass use and its environmental effects.’

    World Bank, World Development Report 2008, Washington, October 2007

    ‘Few current biofuels programs are economically viable, and most have social and environmental costs: upward pressure on food prices, intensified competition for land and water, and possibly, deforestation.’

    (2) Environmental groups including BirdLife International and Transport and Environment (T&E) have repeatedly called for biofuel targets to be scrapped in favour of overall greenhouse gas reduction targets for all transport fuels, which is the approach taken by the proposed new Fuel Quality Directive. If designed right, and accompanied by robust sustainability standards, the groups believe that an emissions-based approach could successfully cut greenhouse gas emissions from all types of transport fuel production, reduce demand for environmentally devastating unconventional oil such as tar sands, and promote only climate-friendly biofuels produced in a sustainable way. A similar system has also been proposed in California.