EU reaches tentative deal to cap food-based biofuels

Corn dryer silos

Discussions about land displacement and food scarcity caused by biofuels are driven more by “ideology” or “populism” rather than science, says Jörg Jacob, CEO of German Biofuels. [Shutterstock]

European Union lawmakers reached a tentative deal on Wednesday (1 April) to place a 7% limit on how much crop-based biofuel can be used in the transport sector, EU sources said.

The agreement on a legal text, thrashed out by representatives of the European Commission, Parliament and member states follows years of argument on traditional biofuels, which were once seen as environmental, but are now considered to do more harm than good.

Wednesday’s compromise deal should mark almost the final stage in establishing a new piece of EU law, although it still needs official endorsement.

The Environment Committee of the European Parliament will vote on it on 14 April, and then a plenary session of the parliament will have to endorse it, parliamentary sources said.

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

But research has shown the damage caused by many crop-based biofuels, such as those from maize and rapeseed.

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

Those seeking to promote a new generation of advanced biofuels made from seaweed or waste favoured a tighter limit on traditional biofuels. The parliament had also called for a 6 percent limit.

But the European Council of member states held out for 7%, while those who have invested in biofuels made from crops say too low a cap would put jobs at risk.

Bioethanol lobby ePURE gave a cautious welcome to Wednesday’s deal, saying it did not provide enough incentive for the new generation biofuels.

“We welcome Council’s continued commitment to a 7% cap for conventional biofuels but we are disappointed with the lack of a binding target for advanced biofuels,” Robert Wright, secretary general of ePURE, said in an email.

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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.

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

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