Biofuel limit delay costing billions and increasing emissions

Efforts to reduce the amount of food crops used to make transport fuels have suffered a setback with the defeat of a proposal that would have limited how much of the EU’s renewable fuels target could be made up from food-based biofuels. T&E said the proposal “was ugly, but the status quo is even worse”.

When the EU set its target in 2008 for 10% of transport fuels to come from renewable sources, it effectively set up a market for most of that 10% to be made up of ‘first generation’ biofuels. But since then, overwhelming evidence has emerged that production of the majority of these biofuels, which are made largely from food crops, emits more greenhouse gases than conventional fossil fuel.
 
The Commission last year suggested that only half of the 10% target could be made up from food-based biofuels, and that the other 5% had to come from ‘second generation’ biofuels and other sources. After protests from the biofuels industry, MEPs approved a 6% limit for food-based fuels, while the Lithuanian presidency of the Council of the EU put a proposal for a 7% limit to energy ministers.
 
Yet even this compromise has now been rejected. An unlikely coalition of countries, ranging from those that felt it was too weak to those that want no limit at all, meant the 7% cap was blocked.
 
T&E’s clean fuels manager, Nusa Urbancic, said: ‘The compromise on the table was ugly, but the status quo is even worse. A 7% limit would have meant 400 million tonnes of CO2 more than a 5% limit, equivalent to adding 9 million extra cars to Europe’s roads by 2020. But no limit will mean even more emissions, and higher costs too through mandates and subsidies. Ministers should listen to progressive countries such as Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, and adopt a position closer to the 5% limit.’
 
The legislation is now in the hands of the Greek presidency, but with elections to the European Parliament due in May, little is expected. Meanwhile, food-based biofuels can continue to count towards the 10% target.