‘Vested interests’ set back good biofuels

Efforts to allow biofuels to make a meaningful contribution to fighting climate change have suffered a major setback. A vote by MEPs earlier this month – in somewhat farcical circumstances – effectively means there may be no agreement on encouraging good biofuels that reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the elections of the European Parliament next year. T&E has described the situation as ‘pitiful’ and ‘a victory for vested interests over innovators’.

The EU’s original commitment, agreed in 2009, to have 10% of transport fuels coming from renewable sources by 2020 has led to a surge in biodiesel and other ‘first generation’ biofuels made from food crops. But the realisation that such fuels do not generally reduce greenhouse gases, and sometimes create more due to indirect land-use change (ILUC), has led to proposed changes to the current legislation. These changes envisage just 5% of transport fuels coming from food-based crops, reporting of ILUC emissions and a clear framework to encourage the development of advanced, or ‘second generation’, biofuels that genuinely help the fight against climate change.
 
With European Parliament elections scheduled for May 2014, the future of the proposed changes depended on a fast-tracked negotiating process. But in a vote taken on 17 October, when some MEPs had left Brussels, the mandate needed for the speeded-up negotiations failed by just two votes. With a new Commission due to take office late next year, most observers believe it will be difficult to reach an agreement before the new Parliament and Commission begin their work. However, the Lithuanian Presidency is still pushing for a deal in a Council meeting in December. 
 
T&E clean fuels manager Nusa Urbancic said: ‘It’s a pitiful situation. The whole point of providing EU subsidies for biofuels was to help in the fight against climate change, so when it’s clear that the biofuels being subsidised aren’t helping, you have to change. It’s absolutely certain that indirect land-use change is happening, it’s probably the most researched subject in EU history, but the biodiesel producers have somehow been able to create doubt that has led to the better fuels being delayed. It’s a victory for vested interests over innovators willing and able to produce more sustainable biofuels, but who won’t produce them unless the legislative framework is clearly defined.’
 
After the vote, the MEP in charge of the draft law, Corinne Lepage tweeted: ‘The EPP and the far right have defended the first generation biofuels very well. €7 billion per year subsidy!’
 
The legislation will continue its progress, with the next step seeing Member States decide their position on the draft law in the December energy council.