EurActiv.com

EU news and policy debates across languages

01/10/2016

EU lawmakers back 6% cap on food-based biofuels

Sustainable Dev.

EU lawmakers back 6% cap on food-based biofuels

Harvesting corn for bioethanol. Bergheim, 2009.

[Windwärts Energie/Flickr]

The European Parliament’s environment committee on Tuesday (24 February) backed a new limit on traditional biofuels made from food crops that critics say stoke inflation and do more harm than good to the environment.

Those seeking to promote a new generation of advanced biofuels made from seaweed and waste welcomed Tuesday’s vote.

But those who have invested in biofuels made from crops such as maize or rapeseed say it puts jobs at risk.

Current legislation requires EU member states to ensure that renewable sources account for at least 10% of energy in transport by 2020.

The European Parliament’s environment committee on Tuesday agreed that biofuel from food crops should not exceed 6% of final energy use in transport – a tougher limit than the 7% backed by member states last year.

>> Read: EU diplomats agree to 7% biofuels cap

It also agreed that negotiations between member states, the European Commission and the Parliament should start now on a legislative text, rather than waiting for a plenary parliamentary vote.

Thomas Nagy, executive vice-president at Novozymes , the world’s leading supplier of enzymes for the production of conventional and advanced ethanol, said Tuesday’s decision was long overdue and should help to spur necessary investment in the right kind of biofuels.

“A stable and effective framework is the only way forward to secure commercial deployment,” he said.

But ePURE, the European Renewable Ethanol Association, called on member states “to remain firm on a minimum 7% cap for conventional biofuels”.

Apart from the impact on food prices, using farmland to produce biofuels adds to pressure to free up land through deforestation, which can result in increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Green members of the European Parliament said Tuesday’s compromise deal meant changes in land use and the resulting emissions would be accounted for, although it said the proposals did not go far enough.

British liberal lawmaker Catherine Bearder also said the deal fell short, but would help to “combat deforestation, hunger and climate change”.

The European People’s Party, the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, regretted the outcome.

It said it could mean the failure of negotiations that still have to take place on a final legal text, protracting regulatory uncertainty that has already dragged on for years.

Positions

Transport & Environment’s energy manager Nusa Urbancic said: 

“We welcome MEPs’ determination to limit the amount of bad biofuels the EU will blend in its petrol and diesel. Although in some respects weaker than the original proposal from the Commission, this vote send a clear signal that the European Parliament wants cleaner alternative fuels that actually reduce emissions. Rapporteur Torvalds now needs to stand his ground when negotiating a deal with the Latvian presidency, especially on ILUC factors and the cap. Otherwise, billions in taxpayers’ money will continue to be wasted on harmful biofuels that in many cases pollute more than fossil fuels.”

Robbie Blake, biofuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said:

“EU biofuels policy is a disaster – contributing to forest destruction, damaging communities around the world and destabilising food markets – while potentially increasing greenhouse gas emissions, rather than reducing them. Limits on biofuels that compete with food crops are absolutely vital, but today’s vote doesn’t go far enough to completely phase out the use of food in our cars. Nils Torvalds, the lead MEP in the process, must now bargain hard with EU governments to limit crop-based biofuels.”

Faustine Defossez, European Environmental Bureau Senior Policy Officer for Agriculture and Bioenergy said:

“Today MEPs have clearly acknowledged the harm caused by some biofuels and agreed that emissions resulting from the indirect land use changes caused by them can no longer be ignored. The end of these discussions is finally nearing, we only hope that with that we will also see the end of harmful biofuels.”

Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament Catherine Bearder said:

"These crucial reforms will permanently plug the hole in the EU's carbon market and boost long-term green investment. They will also level the playing field for British firms by bringing the cost of carbon in the EU into line with the UK's own ambitious carbon floor price. A final agreement is now urgently needed to show the EU is serious about strengthening its emissions trading scheme in the build up to global climate talks in Paris later this year."

UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said:

“Today the UK joins eight other Member States to make clear the need for strong and urgent reform of EU emissions trading that shows the rest of the world Europe is firmly committed to reducing emissions cost-effectively. Ambitious, and early action is good for Europe, providing the certainty needed to create investment, jobs and growth as we move to a low-carbon economy. Delay will only cause investor uncertainty, raise costs for businesses and ultimately leave consumers to pay the price.”

Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s EU biofuels expert, said:

“By reaching an agreement, MEPs avoided a potential pitfall and put people’s right to food above the production of environmentally damaging biofuels. Today’s decision to go for a lower biofuels cap than the one proposed by EU energy ministers cements the case that biofuels drive up food prices - hitting the world’s poorest hardest.”

“The Finnish, ALDE lead MEP Nils Torvalds must stay strong when negotiating with governments to defend food security, the climate and the rights of those affected by Europe’s thirst for biofuels.  Torvalds must ensure that proper accounting of carbon emissions from converting land for agricultural use is maintained to end support for biofuels that harm the climate. Maintaining the safeguards introduced by the Parliament to protect the land rights of communities affected by land deals to produce biofuels is also key.”

Novozymes, a supplier of enzymes for the production of conventional and advanced ethanol said:

"The package of amendments adopted today is complex and far from perfect, but we welcome the broad consensus in Parliament to establish a mandatory target for advanced biofuels by 2020 and the strong call for longer term support.  A stable and effective framework is the only way forward to secure commercial deployment and allow Europe to harness the benefits of CO2 emissions savings, energy security and job creation."

"Likewise, we welcome the re-introduction of a specific provision that guarantees a minimum share of renewable ethanol in petrol within the cap. Ethanol significantly reduces CO2 emissions compared to fossil fuels even when indirect impacts are accounted for. It is only fair to differentiate those biofuels that are best performing."    

Background

The EU has a target of 10% renewable energy in transport fuel by the year 2020, contained within the renewable energy directive (RED).

Meanwhile, the fuel quality directive (FQD) requires a 6% reduction in the carbon footprint of transport fuels by the same year.

EU negotiators have agreed to a 7% cap on biofuels made from food crops in transport fuel, in a move environmentalists say was a “timid step” in the right direction.

Campaigners have pushed for the accounting of indirect land-use change (ILUC) from biofuels in EU legislation, saying demand for bioenergy in Europe was causing farmers in countries such as Indonesia to switch crops from food production to energy, causing a rise in food prices.

Some in the biofuel industry argue that the issue could be tackled by a major overhaul of agricultural strategy to improve productivity or by pressing abandoned farmland back into action. Waste products from biofuel production can also be fed to animals, they say, so reducing the pressure on land resources.

Timeline

  • Until July 2015: Formal negotiations with the Latvian Presidency of the Council of Ministers for a possible second reading agreement

Further Reading

European Parliament

European Commission

Business & industry

NGOs