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A leaked report suggests that the EU is set to limit the use of crop-based biofuels following concerns the technology is not as effective at cutting emissions as previously thought and may conflict with food production. The leaked report says that subsidies should only continue where there are clear and substantial emissions savings which are not offset by indirect land-use change (iluc) and where they are not produced from crops for food and feed. Meanwhile new reports by Oxfam and the ICCT raise further concerns about current biofuels policy.
A news release by Transport and the Environment (T&E) says that the Commission has been under pressure for several years to recognise that when crops are grown to make biofuels, use of land is indirectly affected, with the result that new land has to be found to replace the lost production, which in turn leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions.T&E says that the EC now recognises that indirect land-use change (or ‘Iluc’) undermines the environmental case for certain types of biofuels pathways which are incentivised under current policy.
Since 2009, the EU has had a target to have 10% of all transport fuels made up of renewable fuels by 2020, and biofuels were expected to make up a large share of this target. But according to the leaked Commission document, biofuels derived from food crops will now be limited to 5% of total EU transport fuels.
Biofuels have also been questioned due to their impact on rising food prices. This month the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation called for incentives to biofuel production to be reduced amid record-high grain prices because of low rainfall in the USA.
Biofuels already make up around 4.5% of European transport fuels suggesting that there is little room for future growth. The Commission says its wants non-land-derived biofuels, such as fuel made from household waste and algae, to make up the difference and is introducing what T&E says is a controversial system of double and quadruple accounting to make this possible.
T&E's biofuels officer Nusa Urbancic said: ‘It’s important that the Commission appears to be finally addressing the problem and discouraging further expansion of unsustainable biofuels. It will be attacked by the biofuels industry for doing this, but it must stand firm, because even this proposal still fails to fundamentally clean up biofuels. It still does not count Iluc emissions in the Renewable Energy Directive, nor include any Iluc factors for biofuels produced from non-food crops. This is key to giving the right framework for the future development of the sector."
Meanwhile, a new report from Oxfam says EU biofuel mandates are a subsidy to big business that could cost every adult about €30 each year by 2020, deprive millions of people of food, land and water. The report, ‘The Hunger Grains’, says EU biofuels policy is pushing up global food prices and driving people off their land, resulting in deeper hunger and malnutrition in poor countries. It also says tax exemptions and incentives for biofuel production will end up costing every EU citizen €30 a year by 2020.
Another new study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) says that European biofuel mandates are unlikely to deliver a significant reduction and could even increase greenhouse gas emissions unless land use factors are considered. The ICCT suggests that the Commission is on the right track with its new biofuels rules, which were recently leaked.
The ICCT paper claims that, if not revised to address iluc, the Renewable Energy Directive could be expected to deliver a carbon saving of only 4% compared to fossil fuels, with a 30% chance actually of causing a net emissions increase.
In the wake of the European Commission leaked report, the UK National Farmers Union has called for a common-sense approach to be applied to biofuels. An NFU press release says that calls to scrap the biofuels element of the Renewable Energy Directive are "staggeringly short sighted, based on flawed science and demonstrate a failure to address the important issue of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by transport within Europe".
The UK's Renewable Energy Association (REA) says in a press release that the UK biofuels industry stands to be devastated by the EC'sdraft proposals. If implemented, the Association says, the proposals would shift the goalposts for the industry so dramatically that millions of pounds of investment could be wasted, including in the most advanced UK businesses. The REA says: "All significant investment in the sector would likely cease and dependency on oil will increase. Nearly £1 billion has been invested in the UK in the production of sustainable biofuels, but our industry remains small by EU standards".
The REA believes that the proposals would damage the UK’s low carbon ambitions, leave the transport sector hooked on fossil fuels, and pull the rug from under our nascent sustainable biofuels industry. The framework for biofuels is highly complex, as are many of the issues around it, and the industry is frequently frustrated by gross over-simplifications in the biofuels debate.
The LowCVP was the leading agency in the establishment of the orginal carbon accreditation and sustainability standards for biofuels sold in the UK under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO). For more background details click here.