EU energy ministers reject a bad deal on biofuels but status quo is even worse

European energy ministers today rejected by a blocking minority a political deal to amend the EU biofuels policy. The rejected agreement, struck by the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU, would have limited the use of food-based biofuels that are eligible to count towards carbon reduction targets [1] to 7% of transport fuel – a cap close to the original 2020 target. The deal would have also mandated just the reporting of biofuel emissions from indirect land-use change (ILUC) [2] with a wide range of values for ILUC factors.

Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg, which held the most progressive positions in the Council, rejected the compromise because they thought it was too weak. Poland and Hungary, to the contrary, rejected it because they wanted no limits on the uptake of conventional biofuels. 
Reacting to the decision, T&E’s clean fuels manager, Nusa Urbancic, said: “The compromise on the table was ugly, but the status quo is even worse. Ministers should listen to the progressive countries and adopt a position closer to that of the Parliament. Failure to act means more emissions and higher costs; it is difficult to see why Europe would want that.” [3]
The proposed and rejected 7% cap would have led to a one-off release of 400 million tonnes of CO2 compared to the 5% cap proposed by the Commission [4]. This is equivalent to adding nine million extra cars to Europe’s roads by 2020. The mere reporting of ILUC emissions would have allowed biofuels that produce more emissions than conventional diesel and petrol to still count towards the 10% renewable energy target in transport by 2020.
Now, the incoming Greek Presidency of the EU will resume political negotiations to reach a new agreement before the second-reading negotiations with the Parliament can start.
[1] The EU regulates the use of biofuels through two laws with a 2020 time horizon. The renewable energy directive (RED) sets a 10% target for renewable energy in transport. The fuel quality directive (FQD) requires a 6% reduction in the carbon footprint from transport fuels. In practice, these two targets led to EU countries subsidising and mandating biofuels to meet them, provided they reduce emissions compared with fossil fuels. Both laws therefore have rules for calculating the direct carbon emissions from biofuels but these leave out ILUC emissions.
[2] ILUC happens when land previously used to grow crops for food is converted to grow crops for fuel. As food will have to be grown somewhere else because demand for food remains at least constant, this will result in an overall increase in emissions through clearing new land for farming. Watch a short video about biofuels at
[3] European taxpayers are already subsidising conventional biofuels at around €6 billion a year. Source: International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
[4] The cap was designed to reduce the pressure that biofuels used in Europe exert on new land around the world – pressure that leads to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

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