7/6/06 - A Sustainable Path for Biofuels in the EU

A high profile one-day conference on 7 June 2006, organised by BirdLife International, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), and the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E).

Report and conclusions from the stakeholder conference organised by BirdLife International, the EEB and T&E, 7 June 2006, Brussels


The conference took place on the eve of the Energy Council’s debate on the Biomass Action Plan and the Biofuels Strategy and brought together representatives from all stakeholder groups, including the biofuels producers, farmers, oil industry and environmental NGO’s, researchers and relevant Commissioner services and government representatives.

Officials from DG TREN and DG Agri presented the EU biofuels strategy, insisting on the EU’s commitment to sustainability and on an open and constructive dialogue with stakeholders. The ongoing public consultation on the review of the biofuels Directive was hailed as a key instrument for ensuring the effectiveness and soundness of future policy development in this field.

Threats and opportunities

The morning session saw an in depth analysis and discussion of a wide range of environmental and social threats and opportunities. Although many of the threats are associated with current unsustainable production patterns in agriculture for the food sector, it was made very clear that these existing environmental pressures will worsen without a robust policy framework in place which will guide the development of the biofuels sector.

Commissioner Dimas on the role of Biofuels

In his key note speech Commissioner Dimas said that “the only long-term sustainable solutions to the energy challenge are to achieve dramatic, indispensable improvements in energy efficiency and, at the same time, to expand renewable energy sources" and that "there must be a full analysis of transport energy needs before we adopt more ambitious targets for bio-fuels.”

 On the role of biofuels within this larger framework he said that “we need to take an integrated view on the use of biomass for energy.  Using biomass for heating and electricity is cheaper and provides far greater avoidance of fossil energy and CO2 than converting biomass to bio-fuels.” However “this must be balanced against the security of our oil supply, on which our transport sector relies almost 100% andthe present target of 5.75% bio-fuels by 2010 ensures a basis for development efforts in this sector”.  Stressing that “with current production techniques, EU bio-fuels cannot supply even this”, he added, “that we should in particular avoid locking large investments into first-generation bio-fuels before we know the true potential of second generation ones.”

A way forward?

A number of speakers presented their experiences in dealing with the sustainability of biofuels. The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership from the UK, a stakeholder group set up by the Government, is in an advanced stage of setting up a certification scheme for biofuels that benefit from the newly introduced Obligation for biofuels. One of the key concerns surrounding biofuels is their impacts on sustainability and rainforest loss in the tropics. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil demonstrated how accreditation can be applied to improve the sustainability of one of the key biofuel feedstocks causing this concern, but participants were warned that biofuels risk stretching the ability of the RSPO to deliver and that the capacity of palm oil for both food and fuel applications is very limited. Finally, the law firm DLA Piper presented their analysis of the compatibility of certification for biofuels with WTO rules, advising that while no case is watertight, a carefully designed system that treats all market players equally and is based on thorough consultation with all concerned could be compatible.

Panel debate

Panellists’, representing biofuel producers, farmers, oil industry and environmental NGO’s, discussed the various aspects of environmental safeguards from their perspective. Although there was a diversity of views among panellists on the role of biofuels, there was a broad agreement among panellist and conference participants that biofuels are part of policy context where priority goes to energy efficiency and reducing consumption and that within this context measures are need to ensure biofuels are produced sustainably, do not increase environmental pressures as well as address social issues, stimulate innovation and are at the same time not an excessive burden for the biofuels industry. Apart from this broad agreement, a number of questions remained as to how such a policy is going to take shape in the EU, especially with a view to the revision of the Biofuels Directive towards the end of 2006. A strong message was send to the Commission, by the environmentalist on the panel, Paul Jefferis, speaking there on behalf of BirdLife, EEB and T&E, that this conference, together with the internet consultation should be seen as a first step towards such a policy framework. However the Commission now has to take a lead on this, building on this momentum by creating a platform where experts and stakeholders, including representative from outside the EU, will work on the more technical questions of how to design these measures and link this up with the revision of the Biofuels Directive. The organising NGOs are committed to contributing their knowledge and expertise into such a platform.



Paul Hodson - DG Transport and Energy

Hilkka Summa - DG Agriculture

Bettina Kampman - CE

Guy Anderson - RSPB

Marco Lambertini - BirdLife International

Ginting Longenna - Friends of the Earth International

Stavros Dimas - Commissioner for the Environment

Greg Archer - LowCVP

Jan Kees Vis - RSPO

Christine Lancaster - DLA Piper

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