EU is miscalculating climate benefits of biofuels, says EEA

A new report says the EU is seriously miscalculating the contribution biofuels can make to tackling global warming. It calls on the EU to review its bioenergy laws, but the recommendation comes as the EU looks set to postpone by seven years the introduction of new rules aimed at accounting for the full climate impacts of biofuels.

[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]The European Environment Agency’s scientific committee, a group of 19 scientists and academics, has presented an opinion to the Commission, in which it says the EU is committing a ‘serious accounting error’ in assessing the contribution biofuels make to fighting climate change. The opinion accuses the EU of ‘double counting’ carbon reductions because it does not subtract what would have been absorbed anyway by existing forests and plants from the savings achieved by bioenergy.

The committee says European laws ‘need to be reviewed to encourage bioenergy use only from additional biomass that reduces greenhouse gas emissions’. And it says ‘the potential consequences of this bioenergy accounting error are immense, since it assumes that all burning of biomass does not add carbon to the air.’

The latest moves in Brussels suggest the Commission is keen to maintain its incentives to the biofuels industry. The two commissioners responsible for energy and climate, Günther Oettinger and Connie Hedegaard, are reported to have agreed to delay crop-specific rules aimed at discouraging harmful indirect land-use change caused by biofuel production.

Reuters says it has seen the report of a meeting of commissioners that took place in July. The report says the commissioners agreed to delay the new rules in return for an increase in the EU’s criteria for biofuels to directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The current target is for biofuels to reduce greenhouse gases by 35% by 2013 and 50% by 2017. The report of the meeting does not say what the more ambitious targets should be.

T&E fuels officer Nusa Urbancic said: ‘If this is a compromise, it’s a terrible one. The reason given in the report of the meeting is that there are still scientific uncertainties about indirect land-use change, which is a form of sticking one’s head in the sand. The compromise that has been reached ignores the science in order to protect the European biofuels industry, but this is not in the industry’s long-term interest, and does not help biofuels companies plan for the future. This is a political fudge that just postpones the problem, and it’s not good for the climate or those affected by the growing of biofuel crops.’

A Commission study leaked in July suggested that EU demand for biodiesel would drop if its indirect land-use impacts were taken into account. Demand for biofuels in Europe is already slowing down – a new report by the Worldwatch Institute says global biofuel production grew by 17% in 2010, but Europe’s share was only 2%, compared with 19% in 2009.