• Challenge to EU as California accepts land use impact of biofuel production

    California has raised the bar on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport by approving the world's first law that takes into account the indirect changes in land use caused by the production of biofuels. T&E has challenged the EU to follow California's example.

    The west coast American state last month finalised its ‘Low Carbon Fuel Standard’ (LCFS), a law which promotes fuels on the basis of their ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The US president Barack Obama says he wants to extend the principle of the LCFS to the whole of America – if this happens it could make high-carbon fuel extraction, such as oil from tar sands, less economically viable.

    Last year the EU passed a new directive on fuel quality which also sets a greenhouse gas reduction target for fuels, but importantly it left out the indirect impact of biofuels production on how people use land. This has been criticised by social and environmental groups for not only overlooking the contribution to biofuels to rising food prices, but ignoring indirect carbon emissions that make certain biofuels no better than petrol and diesel, and in some cases worse.

    T&E policy officer Nusa Urbancic said: ‘There is increasing and overwhelming scientific evidence showing the impact that increased demand for agricultural crops is having on climate change.’

    ‘Scientists and institutions the world over have warned that much existing biofuel production has caused land elsewhere to be converted for food. Land such as forests, when converted for food crops leads to huge emissions of stored-up carbon.’

    ‘The California law, uniquely, accounts for these indirect emissions, and is therefore an important step forward. The Californian approach may not be perfect, but it can be improved as the science evolves. What is clear is that some biofuels cause more greenhouse gas emissions than they save, which means the EU should catch-up with California and revise its directive.’


    A week earlier, a development in Europe had illustrated the reasoning behind California’s LCFS.

    On the first anniversary of a British law requiring biofuels to be added to conventional fuels, Friends of the Earth published research which showed that, far from saving the equivalent in CO2 of taking one million cars off the roads, the measure had added the emissions of around half a million extra cars.

    The research suggested that forcing all fuels to have a minimum biofuels content of 2.5% had led to 1.3 million tonnes of extra CO2 being emitted over the first eight months of the scheme – meaning the biofuels added to petrol and diesel were effectively producing more than twice the CO2 of the fossil fuels they replace. Most of it came from deforestation caused to create land to grow biofuel crops.

    Although this is a rough calculation and not an academic study, the researchers were using government data and used very conservative estimates where data was not available.

    Two days before the LCFS was approved, the European environmental news service Ends Europe said it believed the Commission would bring forward the publication of legislative proposals aimed at taking into account indirect land use change (ILUC).

    Under the new Renewable Energy Directive, the Commission has until the end of next year to produce the legislation, but with the growing evidence about ILUC and member states facing a deadline of June 2010 to submit national action plans on renewable energy, officials are believed to be working to a target of March for its draft legislation.

    • A new study from America that compared different uses of crops for bio-energy says it is more efficient to use biomass for producing electricity and then power electric vehicles than to convert it to liquid biofuels for internal combustion engines. The study is published in the 8 May on-line edition of Science magazine, www.sciencedaily.com.

    • The Commission says biofuels are on course to achieve only a 4% share of transport fuels in the EU by 2010, not the 5.75% that is the official target.