EU Parliament unwilling to reject Commission’s biofuel criteria

.Europe’s hunger for land is driving deforestation around the world, and makes the EU complicit in the Amazon fires. To save the Amazon and fight climate breakdown, EU farming policy has to change, writes Marco Contiero. [Shutterstock]

Despite a strong negative reaction from EU farmers and industry, the European Parliament does not seem likely to oppose the Commission’s delegated act on sustainability criteria for biofuels.

The Commission adopted the much-awaited delegated act on 13 March, specifyng the sustainability criteria of biofuels under the new renewable energy directive (RED II).

A majority of stakeholders noted that the text had improved compared to the initial draft but said there were still loopholes that could put the EU biofuel policy at risk.

The proposals did not please the European association of farmers and cooperatives (Copa Cogeca), which called on the European Parliament to reject the Commission’s delegated act.

“A loophole is a loophole, regardless of how narrow it is. Despite technical adjustments, the Commission’s final proposal does not provide sufficient guarantees that palm oil certified as ‘low ILUC-risk’ [indirect land use change] will have only a limited impact on deforestation in third countries,” Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said.

The delegated act will be assessed by the Parliament’s ENVI committee on 21 March and by the EU member states, which in the next two months can either approve or reject it as no amendments are allowed.

But this period can be extended for another two months if requested by the Parliament or the Council.

However, the EU assembly seems to be divided over the issue. The Greens said they were partially happy with the updated proposals but warned that the battle was not over yet as the EU executive found a “new palm oil”.

Biofuels: Commission blacklists palm oil, throws soybeans lifeline

In an eagerly-awaited decision, the European Commission last week categorised palm oil as a high-emitting biofuel crop but provided some controversial exemptions for smallholders and spared soybeans from the delegated act’s provisions.

“Soy oil is the new palm oil. The Commission’s own estimates show that at least 8% of global soybean expansion caused direct deforestation since 2008. This is in complete contradiction with the EU’s commitment to halt deforestation by 2020,” Green MEP Bas Eickhout said.

EURACTIV asked Eickhout if this means the Greens will block the delegated act in the parliament but no reply has been provided by the time this article was published.

On the other hand, Seán Kelly, an Irish centre-right MEP (EPP), welcomed the Commission’s updated text, saying that efforts were made to address specific concerns.

“My main concerns on the draft text are related to international trade implications, and the potential loopholes in the legislation that could have allowed high ILUC-risk biofuels onto the EU market,” Kelly told EURACTIV.

“The changes that have been made by the Commission following the consultation are positive, they improve the proposal significantly, and are largely in line with the mandate given by the co-legislators. While this will now be discussed at length internally given the sensitive nature of the issue, my early impressions are positive,” he added.

Similarly, José Blanco López, a Spanish socialist MEP, told EURACTIV that a preliminary analysis of the delegated act reflects improvements in line with what he had expressed in the last committee meeting. “Therefore, these changes should be valued. Hence, I think the conditions could be in place not to oppose the delegated act,” he said.

Biofuels: Commission blacklists palm oil, throws soybeans lifeline

In an eagerly-awaited decision, the European Commission last week categorised palm oil as a high-emitting biofuel crop but provided some controversial exemptions for smallholders and spared soybeans from the delegated act’s provisions.

Dangerous loopholes

Environmentalists also said the executive had improved the initial proposals presented last month, making stricter some palm oil exemptions for smallholders and unused land.

But Transport and Environment (T&E) cautioned that “there is no such thing as green palm oil or soy biodiesel”.

“This campaign is not over and we’ll be taking the fight to those governments and oil companies that want to keep forcing drivers to pay for fake ‘green’ fuels”, T&E’s Laura Buffet said.

Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s top producers of palm oil, accounting for around 85% of global output, and EU countries are the second largest buyer for both countries, after India.

Indonesia exported 4.37 million tonnes of palm oil to the EU in 2016, according to the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki), while Malaysia’s exports totalled 2.06 million tonnes.

Environmentalists hinted that the EU executive wanted to leave some loopholes in order not to completely displease Malaysia and Indonesia, especially in light of the ongoing trade deal talks.

“We pleased the Americans 100% with soybeans and we left some loopholes to make Indonesians and Malaysians partially happy as well,” an industry source told EURACTIV on condition of anonymity, adding that the Parliament should send the text back to the EU executive for revision.

Contacted by EURACTIV, a European Commission spokesperson said that “the delegated act is not part of any trade negotiation with any partner.”

US soy for producing biofuels, an 'unsustainable' giveaway to Trump

The Commission is set to offer Washington a way out from current trade tensions with China authorising imports of soybeans from the US to produce biofuels. However, the new imports to help ease trade relations are not helping the environment.

The EU ethanol industry also reacted, saying that there are loopholes which could put the RED II directive to the test and keep the door open for palm oil in Europe.

“The revised text still leaves open a loophole that would allow significant amounts of palm oil to count towards the EU renewables targets, through the so-called ‘low ILUC-risk biofuels’ category, by giving smallholders a free pass on proving that measures have been put in place to improve agriculture practices or that they have cultivated unused land,”  said Emmanuel Desplechin, the secretary-general of EU ethanol association (ePURE).

“But respecting the mandate of the RED II agreement – which took a clear stand against palm oil – means closing the loophole for smallholders entirely,” he added.

According to ePURE, the Commission should remove the exemption for smallholders as well as make it clear that high ILUC-risk includes not just palm oil but its side streams as well.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

“Content-wise the massive loopholes will render the regulation ineffective in curbing climate damaging palm oil diesel use in EU, while process-wise the proposal does not confirm the good regulation requirements as the delegated act itself admits that there was insufficient time to conduct an impact assessment,” Zoltán Szabó, sustainability consultant in the European bioenergy industry, said.

“If we are serious about transport decarbonisation and want a coherent and effective biofuel policy, the only way forward is to reject the Delegated Act as proposed by the Commission. Otherwise, a bad compromise will follow, preserving the status quo and not delivering transport decarbonisation,” the Hungarian expert added.

Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy, BirdLife Europe, commented, “Today’s decision puts a welcomed brake on the craziness of subsidising the burning of palm oil for energy. Unfortunately, it still has many loopholes and doesn’t affect other drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss, such as soy."

"The EU is still locked into a perverse policy that incentivises environmental destruction and increases greenhouse gas emissions in the name of fighting climate change," he added.

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