‘This must be the most researched subject in the EU’s history!’

Two new reports are expected to put more pressure on the Commission over its biofuels policy. Both add to the growing bank of evidence that under current policies, changes in land use caused by growing biofuels crops will wipe out the climate benefits of using certain biofuels, especially in the case of biodiesel.

One report on the cost-effectiveness of policies to decarbonise transport, due to be published by a group of consultancies later this month, says most models show that indirect land-use change (Iluc) will mean ‘a net increase of greenhouse gases’ for biodiesel. The other report, also still to be published, says that if biofuels’ lifecycle emissions, rather than just direct emissions, from Iluc are taken into account, the EU would achieve little more than half its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050.

The two reports are just the latest in a long line of studies that have cast doubt on the wisdom of the Commission’s 2008 target for 10% of transport fuels to come from renewable sources by 2020, a target that can effectively only be met with a large share of biofuels.

T&E’s biofuels officer Nusa Urbancic said: ‘The Commission has got itself into a real mess with its target. It now finds itself in a situation where, if it ignores the warnings about Iluc, it creates an expensive biofuels strategy which will make the climate situation worse, not better. But if it acts on the warnings raised by its own studies, it will make much of the European biofuels industry unviable. That is particularly problematic because the industry was effectively created by EU targets and subsidies.’

T&E says the Commission should include Iluc factors for different types of biofuels and withdraw its 10% target, pointing out that tougher vehicle efficiency targets would be cheaper for consumers than biofuels, and more effective as a strategy to fight climate change.

The Commission has already drafted two compromise proposals on Iluc without reaching agreement on either, reflecting deep internal divisions on the issue. The deal now under discussion would penalise biofuels for their crop-specific Iluc emissions in the fuel quality directive but not the renewable energy directive. This would further complicate EU biofuel policy without solving the climate problem: it would remove the incentive for oil companies to buy biodiesel but it would still oblige Member States to set targets for its use.