• Ministers seal a modest reform of EU biofuels policy

    Energy ministers today finally agreed to change the EU’s biofuels policy. After more than a year of talks, the Energy Council says it wants to limit the amount of food-based biofuels to 7% of petrol and diesel sold. Without policy change, around 8.6% would likely come from such biofuels; the Commission proposed a stricter limit of 5%. The deal also further weakens the reporting of biofuels emissions resulting from indirect land-use change (ILUC).

    By not mandating the full accounting of indirect emissions caused by displacing food with fuel crops, biofuels that emit more CO2 than conventional diesel or petrol can still count towards meeting the 7% target [3].
    Reacting to the decision, T&E’s clean fuels officer, Pietro Caloprisco, said: “With this modest reform, Europe puts a lid on biofuels that emit more CO2 than the fossil fuels they are meant to replace. While it recognises that many biofuels cause indirect emissions, it fails to ensure full carbon accounting and kick-start cleaner fuels.”
    The ministers’ text does require 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.
    Ahead of the Council meeting, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia issued a joint declaration that they would not support a lowering of the cap below 7% in negations with the Parliament.
    “It is disappointing that some countries have signaled their reluctance to even discuss the 7% cap with the Parliament,” Pietro Caloprisco added. “We encourage the Italian presidency not to ignore the calls from several other member states to improve the text during the upcoming negotiations.”
    Now, the European Parliament and the Commission will discuss the Council’s agreement in second-reading negotiations with the possibility of the legislation being passed 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] 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.
    [3] The cap or target 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.