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  • MEPs confirm support for 6% biofuels cap

    Members of the European Parliament's environment committee have backed a 6% limit on land-based biofuels that can count toward the 10% renewable energy target in transport by 2020. Critics say many of these so-called first-generation biofuels drive up global food prices and emit as much carbon as conventional fossil fuel and even more in some cases.

    The committee also approved accounting of biofuels emissions from indirect land-use change indirect emissions (ILUC) under the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) with a review clause to include them in all pieces of legislation after 2020. ILUC occurs when extra CO2 emissions are released due to non-agricultural land being cleared as a result of growing demand for biofuels.

    The biofuels reform must now be considered by member states, but the vote is expected to halt growing consumption of biofuels that increase greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional diesel and petrol.

    The committee gave a strong mandate to rapporteur Nils Torvalds to now negotiate with member states. Discussions are scheduled to take place on 10 and 24 March.

    The vote followed an intensive campaign by the traditional biofuels industry opposing a lower cap on food-based biofuels, and environmental and development NGOs seeking a lower cap, ILUC accounting and other reforms via a Twitter and Facebook campaign targeting MEPs.

    EU governments have so far proposed a cap at 7% on the amount of food crops that can be used as biofuels and count towards the EU renewable energy target. Ministers have also sought weak reporting requirements for ILUC and weak national sub-targets for advanced biofuels.

    Reacting to the vote, T&E’s energy manager Nusa Urbancic said: ‘We welcome MEPs’ determination to limit the amount of bad biofuels the EU will blend in its petrol and diesel. Although in some respects weaker than the original proposal from the Commission, this vote sends a clear signal that the European Parliament wants cleaner alternative fuels that actually reduce emissions.’

    The committee also voted to widen the scope of the 6% cap to also cover energy crops, that is, inedible crops that still compete for land with food crops. T&E said this correctly identifies land use, not the type of crop, as the key environmental challenge of biofuels. It would mean that member states could not subsidise or mandate this type of biofuel after 2020.

    MEPs also strengthened sustainability criteria for advanced biofuels, mainly made from municipal waste and residues. There would be an obligation to comply with the waste hierarchy – to prioritising reusing or recycling waste over burning it.

    Ms Urbancic added: ‘Rapporteur Torvalds now needs to stand his ground when negotiating a deal with the Latvian presidency, especially on ILUC factors and the cap. Otherwise, billions in taxpayers’ money will continue to be wasted on harmful biofuels that in many cases pollute more than fossil fuels.’

    EU countries spent €6 billion in 2011 in support of the biofuels industry. This public support was necessary to sustain the 4.5% market share biofuels had in 2011 – below the 6% freeze voted for in the environment committee.