EU member states say biofuels limit needs more thought

Reuters / Limits must be imposed on the use of biofuels made from food crops, leading EU member states France and Britain said Feb. 22, while questioning the detail of a EU Commission proposal for a five per cent cap.

Concern that some biofuels create more problems than they solve led to a major policy shift in September when the EU executive announced plans to limit the use of crop-based biodiesel and bioethanol to five per cent of total transport fuel consumption.

Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger on Feb. 22 said the commission’s five per cent proposal had taken into account investments already made, but was not a definitive level.

He told a meeting of EU energy ministers a slightly higher level of say six or seven per cent, as well as looking at biodiesel and bioethanol separately, “might be more in line with the market.”

“We are willing to be flexible,” he said.

The reason some first-generation biofuels are considered problematic is that they increase total demand for crops and displace food production into new areas, forcing forest clearance and draining of peatland. The displacement is referred to as ILUC (indirect land-use change).

In some cases, first-generation biofuels can be worse for the environment than fossil fuels. Another human cost is the risk of stoking food price inflation and land grabs.

“To me it seems a terrible waste of money and food to promote biofuels which are more expensive than fossil fuels, and which do not create significant greenhouse gas savings and in some cases seem to have even higher emissions than fossil fuels,” said Danish Minister for Climate, Energy and Buildings Martin Lidegaard.

He called for changes to the commission plan, including tougher controls on biofuels with the highest ILUC emissions.

The proposal includes ILUC factors to measure the indirect emissions of biofuels made from cereals, sugars and oilseeds, but they carry no legal weight in a watering down of an earlier draft proposal.

Ed Davey, British energy and environment minister, said the commission approach could increase costs, while jeopardizing EU goals to cut climate emissions.

The aim of a goal to get 10 per cent of transport fuel from renewable sources — chiefly biofuels — is to meet a target to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 versus 1990 levels, while increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20 per cent.

“Clearly some of the ways that biofuels have been damaging the environment and undermining action on climate change need to be addressed,” Davey said.

However, the commission proposal as it stands is too much of a “one-size-fits-all proposal,” he said, calling for more research and analysis.

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