• Member state biofuel plans will cause higher emissions than fossil fuels

    The use of biofuels in EU transport will emit between 81% and 167% more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels and require an area twice the size of Belgium in new land to grow biofuel crops. That is the latest evidence concerning the environmental impact of biofuels, which was published earlier this month. As the findings are based on EU member states’ plans for increasing use of biofuels and the most recent science on indirect land use change, this study carries more weight than previous studies on the impact of biofuels published up to now.

    [mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]The issue of indirect land-use change has grown in prominence in recent months, as its impacts threaten to undermine the potential of most biofuels to be a tool in fighting climate change. But the European Union still has a target that 10% of transport fuels must come from renewable sources by 2020, and national governments have to present plans showing how they will meet this target.

    Nine non-governmental organisations including T&E commissioned the Institute for European Environment Policy to analyse the 23 national plans submitted by EU member states for meeting their 10% renewable transport energy targets by 2020 (only 23 of the 27 states had submitted their plans by the start of last month). The analysis includes the indirect land-use change impacts caused by biofuels, making it the most realistic assessment so far of the real world impacts of the EU’s biofuels target.

    The results are startling. Among the conclusions are:

    • Biofuels will provide 9.5% of Europe’s transport fuel by 2020, and more than 90% of them will come from food crops.
    • When indirect land-use change is taken into account, biofuels will emit an extra 27 to 56 million tonnes of greenhouse gases
      per year – equivalent to an extra 12 to 26 million cars on Europe’s roads by 2020.
    • Unless EU policy changes, the extra biofuels that Europe will use over the next decade will be on average 81-167% worse for the
      climate than fossil fuels.

    Some of Europe’s leading economies stand to be the worst offenders. Five countries will be responsible for over two thirds of the increase in emissions, the worst being Great Britain with 13.3 million tonnes of extra carbon dioxide each year, followed by Spain with 9.5m and Germany with 8.6m. If all the biofuel increases currently planned really happen, up to 69 000 square kilometres of new land worldwide will be needed over the next 10 years, which will almost certainly mean significant deforestation with its corresponding harmful impact on climate change.

    T&E policy officer Nusa Urbancic said: ‘This research shows current EU biofuels policy is putting climate policy for transport in reverse gear. There can be no doubt now that, until indirect land-use change is fully taken into account, Europe will continue to subsidise an alternative energy that is no better than the fossil fuels it is designed to replace, and on a massive scale. ’

    The research comes at a key time for EU biofuels policy, with the European Commission due to report on how to address and minimise ILUC emissions by the end of the year. The Commission has also run into legal problems over its failure to release information about the growing evidence involving indirect land-use change.