• T&E and other NGOs take legal action against Commission

    Officials are holding back evidence of biofuels' land-use impact. A coalition of four environmental organisations, including T&E, has filed a legal action against the European Commission over its refusal to release documents that are vital to the debate on biofuels.

    The Commission is sitting on studies that show the environmental impact of indirect land use change (Iluc) caused by producing biofuels. One leading official is so alarmed at the studies that he says Iluc will ‘kill biofuels in the EU’.

    It has taken a while for the issue of indirect land-use change (Iluc) to filter through to EU policy-making, but it is now happening in dramatic fashion.

    With the EU committed to having 10% of its transport fuels coming from renewable sources – mostly fuels produced from biomass – by 2020, member states have already agreed that fuels that do not save less than 35% in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels cannot count towards the 10% target. And they have asked the Commission to look at the environmental impact of Iluc and propose any changes regarding which fuels can count towards the biofuels target.

    The Commission now has studies that show the negative impacts of deforesting or converting land to grow crops for biofuels production. A group of environmental activists and lawyers and associated correspondence want the studies – contained in around 200 documents – released for public view.

    Two studies seen by T&E show that an additional 5.2 million hectares of land would be needed. The head of the Commission’s agriculture directorate Jean-Luc Demarty had reportedly written a note to a colleague in the energy directorate saying: ‘An unguided use of Iluc would kill biofuels in the EU’.

    T&E requested access to the studies on 15 October 2009. Under EU ‘access to documents’ rules, the material should have been made available within 30 days, but the Commission delayed, and then on 9 February, 117 days after the original application, said it needed additional time, which in legal terms is the same as rejecting the request. Earlier this month, T&E and three NGOs led by the environmental law organisation ClientEarth, began legal proceedings in the EU’s General Court (formerly the court of frst instance), claiming the Commission committed several violations of fundamental EU laws.

    T&E policy ofcer Nusa Urbancic said: ‘These reports need to be released so the public can see the full facts. Failure to do so sets a dangerous precedent that EU institutions may delay the release of documents until after a policy decision has been made. This is incompatible with democracy. In addition, what is especially worrying is that we are seeing a pattern of the science being ignored or modifed to fit policy objectives.’

    While the Commission has declined to publish its Iluc information, the British government has released a report on what impact Great Britain’s 13% biofuels target for transport would have on forests and other undeveloped land. The fndings, produced by a consultancy called E4tech, show that some of the most commonly-used biofuel crops (such as palm oil, rape seed and soy) fail to meet the EU’s minimum sustainability standard and would in some cases be worse than fossil fuels when the impacts of Iluc are included.

    The European biofuels industry receives around €3 billion a year in subsidies.
    • T&E and 24 other environmental NGOs have sent a letter to José Manuel Barroso and seven commissioners, calling on them to take several specifed steps to guarantee the environmental integrity of the sustainability criteria for EU biofuels and bioliquids.