• EU governments’ agreement allows biofuels debate to progress

    European governments today gave the green light to a political deal to amend the EU’s biofuels policy. The compromise by ambassadors, which must now be signed off by energy ministers, caps the use of food-based biofuels that are eligible to count towards carbon reduction targets to 7% of transport fuel – higher than the original 5% cap as proposed by the Commission in 2012, and not much below the 8.6% expected under the original 2020 target.

    The deal also further waters down the reporting of emissions from indirect land-use change (ILUC) [3]. By not mandating the full accounting of ILUC emissions, biofuels that emit more CO2 than conventional diesel or petrol can still count towards meeting the 7% target.
    It also requires member states to set a sub-target for advanced biofuels, with 0.5% as a so-called ‘reference value’.  However, countries can also set a lower target if they can explain why.
    Reacting to the decision, T&E’s clean fuels officer, Pietro Caloprisco, said: “This is a weak deal that fails to address the issue at hand – emissions from indirect land-use change. But at least it is one small step in the right direction; better than nothing. Governments should rubberstamp it so that negotiations with the new Parliament can begin.”
    Without reform, the penetration of biofuels will reach 8.6% of transport fuel by 2020, according to the National Renewable Energy Action Plans. This will be largely achieved with biofuels that are causing ILUC.
    Now, energy ministers must sign-off on the agreement brokered by the Greek Presidency of the EU so that second-reading negotiations with the new Parliament can start in earnest and conclude by the end of this year.
    [1] The EU regulates the use of biofuels through two laws with a 2020 time horizon. The renewable energy directive (RED) sets a 10% target for renewable energy in transport. The fuel quality directive (FQD) requires a 6% reduction in the carbon footprint from transport fuels. In practice, these two targets led to EU countries subsidising and mandating biofuels to meet them, provided they reduce emissions compared with fossil fuels. Both laws therefore have rules for calculating the direct carbon emissions from biofuels but these leave out ILUC emissions.
    [2] The cap was designed to reduce the pressure that biofuels used in Europe exert on new land around the world – pressure that leads to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.
    [3] ILUC happens when land previously used to grow crops for food is converted to grow crops for fuel. As food will have to be grown somewhere else because demand for food remains at least constant, this will result in an overall increase in emissions through clearing new land for farming. Watch a short video about biofuels at https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=igUtLwruUjA.