• ‘Suspicious’ recalculation alters biofuels debate

    Two mathematical alterations have changed the tone of the EU's debate on biofuels. Environmental organisations are sceptical about the science and especially concerned about the EU's continuing refusal to recognise the impact on land use from biofuel production.

    Last month the Commission altered its assessment of how much certain biofuels save in terms of greenhouse gases. The alteration is significant, because the proposed biofuels legislation in the draft Renewable Energy directive only allows fuels that save a minimum amount of greenhouse gases to be admitted as contributors to the EU’s target to have 10% of transport fuels coming from renewable sources by 2020.

    But environmental organisations say the development is highly suspicious on two fronts.

    T&E policy officer Nusa Urbancic said: ‘Draft legislation is being hastily changed on the basis of unpublished research that the public cannot check, and these changes are being made at the same time as the far more profound impact of indirect land-use change caused by biofuels production is ignored. When such change is taken into account, greenhouse gas savings are reduced dramatically.’


    Under the new assessment, certain biofuels that would have fallen below the minimum level are now above it. Most notable among them is ethanol made from European-grown sugar beet, which was classified as saving 35% compared with fossil fuels but whose savings are now put at 52%.

    Following this reassessment, the French presidency proposed a draft text for the new directive that set a low minimum level. The text would allow fuels delivering GHG savings of 35% to count immediately, rising to 50% in 2017. In September, MEPs voted for a 45% minimum now rising to 60% by 2015.

    Urbancic added: ‘This report is suspiciously convenient for the biofuels industry. As it was compiled with input from the car and oil companies, you have to say the timing and lack of transparency raises serious questions about how the biofuel lobby has been allowed to influence the debate.

    ‘Worse still, the Commission is happy to use unpublished data that suits the industry at the drop of a hat, while continuing to ignore published scientific evidence on indirect land-use change. Officials are being selective about the science they take on board.’