• Environmental NGOs highlight dangers of biofuels

    The increased use of biofuels could be disastrous for biodiversity and create more environmental problems than they solve, if sustainability safeguards are not added to EU policy.

    That was the message put out this month by T&E and two other leading Brussels-based environmental NGOs, BirdLife International and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

    The three organisations made the call at a conference they staged, “A sustainable path for biofuels in the EU”, aimed at coinciding with a meeting of energy ministers to discuss biofuels. In a joint statement, the NGOs called on the Commission to introduce sustainability safeguards as part of the current revision of the 2003 biofuels directive, or risk the public rejecting biofuels if they are not seen as a credible environmental alternative to fossil fuels.

    The EU’s current biofuels directive has a target of replacing 5.75% of fossil fuels with biofuels in transport by 2010, but a study part-funded by the Commission has said between 14% and 27% of EU agricultural land would be needed if all biofuels were home-produced. As this is clearly unrealistic, large amounts of biofuels would have to be imported, many from countries who strip rainforests for land and grow biofuel crops without certain safeguards.

    T&E policy officer Aat Peterse said: “We are not rejecting biofuels, but as well as the need for environmental safeguards, we must be careful that biofuels don’t distract us from the primary goal of improving energy efficiency. If biofuels are to be part of the energy solution, it is essential that we prevent fuels produced by clearing rainforests and protected habitats finding a market in Europe.”

    At their Council meeting, the 24 energy ministers issued a resolution on biofuels which included the possibility of a sustainability certification scheme for transport fuels. This text had originally been deleted but was reinstated at the last minute.


    The Commission last month launched a consultation on the development of biofuels and other sources of renewable energy.

    The aim is to prepare a progress report on how the current EU biofuels directive is performing, with the report likely to influence any review of the directive. It sets out six questions to be addressed, which start with: “Is the objective of promoting biofuels still valid?”

    The consultation closes on 10 July, and submissions should go to tren-biofuels-directive-review@cec.eu.int

    As well as concern over the lack of overall environmental benefits, NGOs have expressed concern over the efficiency of conversion rates when biofuels are used in transport.

    The question of balancing the interests of big agricultural producers and countries with large numbers of small farms arose at last month’s Council of Ministers discussion on the Commission’s biomass energy action plan.


    Germany’s grand coalition government is reported to have agreed to reduce a proposed tax on biodiesel because Germany is Europe’s largest producer of biodiesel. The finance ministry wants to tax biodiesel at €0.1 per litre, but according to the German business newspaper Handelsblatt,it will now be set at €0.09 following a threatened rebellion by MPs of various parties.

    This news story is taken from the June 2006 edition of T&E Bulletin.