European policy on biofuels is ill-founded and flawed, it should be made good

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Stakeholder Opinion

The matter is as important today as it was then because domestic crop biofuels are still the single biggest contributor to reducing oil consumption in the transport sector, they bring over 6 billion euros in farm incomes and they greatly reduce imports of soy meal from the Americas.   [Shutterstock/pamas]

A decade ago the European Commission decided to exclude conventional biofuels from contributing to future policy on renewable energy, climate and agriculture, writes Benjamin Lammert.

Benjamin Lammert is a farmer and president of the Green Energy Platform.

The matter is as important today as it was then because domestic crop biofuels are still the single biggest contributor to reducing oil consumption in the transport sector, they bring over €6 billion in farm incomes and they greatly reduce imports of soy meal from the Americas.

A principle of European policy making is that it must be based on reason, evidence and the analysis of impacts. In this case there was no reason or analysis presented.  Indeed, if one examines the legislative process over the period, one notes that the Commission limits its explanations to the quotation of a few cursory statements it had itself issued previously.

In its 2016 proposal for REDII, the most recent Renewable Energy Directive, the Commission simply cites its own earlier Strategy on Low-Emission Mobility to justify its decision to phase out crop biofuels.

That Strategy in turn cites the Commission’s 2014 Policy Framework for Climate and Energy which in turn refers the reader to the 2012 draft ILUC Directive.

The ILUC Directive presented no reason or analysis whatsoever.  Indeed it circumvented the duty of evidence by presenting an arbitrary and undifferentiated cap on all crop biofuels with no difference in treatment across conventional biofuels.

There are no roots to the decision whatsoever.

Regarding the treatment of conventional biofuels in REDII the European Impact Assessment Institute concluded that the policy to cap food-based biofuels for transport was assumed without supporting analysis.

It is now 2020 and REDII, together with all of Europe’s energy and climate related policy, is being rewritten to meet the monumental needs of the 2030 Climate Target Plan.

There also is ten years of fresh new information on the benefits and impacts of European crop biofuels on carbon emissions in transport, on farm incomes, food and feed markets, on jobs and on land use – all of it positive.

The European Commission does recognise these facts in the recently published Renewable Energy Progress Report, where its assessment is very clear in asserting the sustainability of biofuels produced from EU feedstock.

Quoting from the Report:

“In recent years, no correlation has been observed between food prices and biofuel demand. Any impact on food prices is small compared to other dynamics in the global food market. Most member states did not observe any impacts on prices due to increased bioenergy demand within their countries.”

“In their Progress Reports, most member states point to limited cultivation of feedstock used in biofuel production compared to total agricultural activities, and consider therefore that associated environmental impacts are low. Several Member States point out that all agricultural production is regulated with respect to environmental impacts and therefore consider that no more impacts should be expected from biofuel crop production than from other crop production.”

Given the unreasoned manner in which the biofuels policy was developed in the last decade, and in the light of the compelling need for bigger and better policy for 2030, it is incumbent on the European Commission to assess conventional biofuels correctly this time, comparing the actual benefits and impacts with whatever its concerns were for them in the past, and to establish a proper evidential basis for its policy on them going forward.  It is incumbent on climate policy makers, farmers, energy providers and citizens to expect it.

Bioenergy is central to Europe’s energy system.  There can be no progress if the underlying principle regarding biofuels is invalid.

[1] P. 16, COM(2016) 767  Proposal for a Directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources

[2] P. 13, COM(2016) 501 A European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility

[3] P. 21, COM (2014) 15 A policy framework for climate and energy in the period from 2020 to 2030

[4] Proposal for amending Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable source, COM(2012)595

[5] P. 67, SWD(2012) 343 Impact Assessment for the ILUC Directive

[6] https://www.impactassessmentinstitute.org/renewable-energy-directive-ii

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