Divided on biofuel phase-out, Parliament looks for compromise

Rapeseed is one of the main sources of biofuels in Europe. [Susanne Nilsson/Flickr]

The lawmaker in charge of steering the EU’s biofuels reform in the European Parliament is looking for compromise after MEPs last week rejected his proposal to phase out crop-based biofuels entirely by 2030 and ban palm oil in biodiesel almost a decade earlier.

A majority of MEPs in the European Parliament’s transport committee (30 against, 11 in favour) voted against the proposal by Green MEP Bas Eickhout in a vote last week (9 November).

The report by the Green Dutchman included a phase-out of crop-based biofuels by 2030 and a ban on the use of palm-oil in biodiesel by 2021. It also proposed introducing safeguards to ensure that so-called “advanced” waste-based biofuels do not contain recyclable or by-product materials with an industrial application.

Green MEP: Sustainability criteria will distinguish ‘good’ and ‘bad’ biofuels

Sustainability criteria are needed to make a clear distinction between “bad” biofuels like palm oil and “good” ones like some ethanol, MEP Bas Eickhout told EURACTIV in an interview.

The rejection of the proposals by the Green MEP was widely expected from centre-right MEPs in the European People’s Party (EPP) who heavily criticised the proposal to phase out biofuels as “flawed” and scientifically unfounded.

EPP lawmakers have frequently emphasised the need to preserve investments made in the sector and protect the rural jobs that depend on crops used for the production of biofuels.

But interestingly, MEPs from the socialists and democrats (S&D) group also rejected the report from Bas Eickhout, despite supporting the same proposals in a separate vote earlier in the Parliament’s  environment committee.

Why this split?

MEPs criticise Commission’s ‘flawed’ policy on post-2020 biofuels

The European Commission’s “scientifically unfounded” U-turn on biofuels will have significant implications for the agriculture sector and risks increasing the imports of GM animal feed from third countries, lawmakers warn.

A ‘signal’ vote

“The text as amended by the transport committee had become far too weak for the Social Democrats,” said Christine Revault d’Allonnes-Bonnefoy, a French socialist MEP who is the shadow rapporteur on the file.

“None of our priorities have been retained and especially that of imposing binding targets for all the Member States It was a red line for us, which is why we wanted to send a clear political message by voting against this proposal,” she told EURACTIV.com

More than half of EU biodiesel made from imported crops, study finds

Some 53% of EU biodiesel is made with imported feedstock, according to a recent analysis of European Commission data by NGO Transport and Environment, and almost half of imported palm oil is burned in car engines.

The vote was only a non-binding opinion, which emboldened socialist MEPs to use it as a signal against attempts to water down the proposal.

Some countries, notably Baltic states, have already reached their renewable energy target and have started selling “renewable credits” to laggard member states. Under this system of “statistical transfer agreements”, Luxembourg recently paid €10m to Luthania to meet its 2020 renewable energy target.

The risk is to disincentive countries to really cut their dependence on fossil fuels, socialist MEPs say.

“We must go further and faster in phasing-out of fossil fuels, and we will continue to bring this ambition into Industry Committee and in plenary session,” said the French MEP.

Luxembourg buys up surplus energy to hit renewable target, in EU first

Lithuania and Luxembourg became the first EU member states to agree on the transfer of renewable energy statistics on Thursday (26 October), meaning the Grand Duchy will now probably hit its 2020 target. Estonia hopes to broker a similar deal to finance its wind power ambitions.

Compromising on biofuels

The Parliament’s committee on industry, research and energy (ITRE) has leading responsibility for the recast of the EU’s renewable energy directive, except for the articles relating to biofuels, which fall under the environment committee (ENVI). The directive will be voted in ITRE at the end of November.

The current compromise amendment in ITRE, seen by EURACTIV, raises the EU’s overall renewable energy target to 30% by 2030, up from the European Commission’s initial proposal of 27%, and re-introduces national binding targets.

This mirrors the position of the socialist rapporteur on the directive, Spanish MEP José Blanco-Lopez.

MEPs in the ITRE committee also want to reinstate a 12% minimum national target for renewable energy sources in the transport sector, which had been dropped by MEPs in the environment committee.

On biofuels, they propose capping the contribution of crop-based biofuels to 7%, and want to cut this to 3.8% by 2030, allowing member states to take more stringent measures (ENVI MEPs proposed a complete phase-out by 2030, and of biodiesel by 2021).

The ITRE Committee also raised so-called ‘blending obligations’ for advanced biofuels of up to 10% by 2030 (the Commission proposal stood at 6.8%, the ENVI Committee at 9%).

Finally, they raised the cap for waste-based biofuels from 1.7% (Commission proposal) to 2.5%. According to this compromise amendment, member states can modify the limit set on this type of fuels “if justified by availability of feedstock”, and without having to ask the Commission.

MEPs noted: “While taking note of the ENVI vote on this directive, the political groups supporting this compromise amendment do so on the basis of the Commission proposal, in particular as regards the cap on 1st generation biofuels and the contents of annex IX [waste-based biofuels].”

Green activists decry EU vote in support of ‘bad bioenergy’

Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s environment committee voted in support of a proposal to phase out biofuels yesterday evening (23 October) but “completely failed” to secure climate friendly use of biomass in heating and electricity, green groups have said.

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