Parliament report flags major changes to EU biofuels proposal


A European Parliament report into the EU’s proposals for addressing the problem of indirect land use change (ILUC) in its biofuels policy will propose today (17 April) the application of unique ‘factors’ to account for differences in biofuels performance.

These would recognise the specific indirect greenhouse gas emissions estimated to occur due to displaced agricultural cultivation from crops grown for fuel.

“Obviously ethanol will benefit from the introduction of ILUC factors as they have lower values and biodiesel and feedstocks used for them might not meet the sustainability criteria anymore,” said Eric Gall, a spokesman for MEP Corinne Lepage, the Parliament's rapporteur.

The report, to be launched today, says that the EU’s proposed 5% cap on biofuels’ share of the transport mix by 2020 should differentiate between the best and worst performers, when greenhouse gas calcuations are take into account.

EURACTIV understands that Lepage’s report will propose introducing sustainability criteria which do this in both the Renewable Energy Directive and the Fuel Quality Directive.

Isabelle Maurizi, project manager for the European Biodiesel Board, told EURACTIV yesterday (16 April) that ILUC was “a young science”, and “too immature” to underpin legislation.

But Lepage indicates that she considers it robust enough to be integrated into European law.

At the same time, in order to protect investments, a “grandfathering clause” is proposed until 2017, which would exempt a quantity of biofuels from the ILUC legislation, so long as their market share stands below the 2010 production level, when biofuels had a 4.27% market share. Eighty percent of that is made up of biodiesel. 

As ethanol would still meet the sustainability criteria despite ILUC, it would not be capped.

The grandfathering clause will be extended from 2018 to 2020, measured against 2008 production levels. But public subsidies should stop in 2018 for biofuels that do not bring significant reductions, LePage's report says.

For "advanced” or second-generation biofuels, the report advocates a safeguard clause for woody biomass and agricultural residues. The proposal would be linked to the Framework Directive on Wastes so as to combat fraud, for example the use of cooking oils in biofuels blends.

A multiple counting proposal by the Commission is left in the legislation, while a sub-target of 1.5 % for the use of biofuels in providing electricity for transport is slated.

As an energy efficiency measure, Lepage also proposes a 12% reduction in total energy use in 2020, compared against current projected levels.

'Indirect land-use change' means that if you take a field of grain and switch the crop to biofuel, somebody somewhere will go hungry unless those missing tonnes of grain are grown elsewhere.

This is because the demand for the missing grain is typically met by the clearing of forests, grasslands and wetlands elsewhere to grow it - and the consequent depletion of the planet's carbon absorption stocks. This process is exacerbated when the forests are burned, and vast quantities of climate-warming emissions are pumped into the atmosphere.

The European Commission has run 15 studies on different biofuel crops, which on average conclude that over the next decade Europe's biofuel policies might have an indirect impact equal to 4.5 million hectares of land – an area the size of Denmark.

Some in the biofuel industry argue that the Commission's science is flawed and 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.

  • 1 July 2014: New biofuels installations must meet a 60% greenhouse gas saving threshold
  • 1 Dec. 2017: Biofuels installations in operation before 1 July 2014 must meet a greenhouse gas saving threshold of 35%
  • 31 Dec. 2017: The Commission will submit a review of policy and best scientific evidence on ILUC to the European Parliament and Council
  • 1 Jan. 2018: Biofuels installations in operation before 1 July 2014 must meet a greenhouse gas saviong threshold of 50%
  • 1 Jan. 2020: Deadline for 10% of EU's transport fuels to be sourced from renewable energies.
  • 2020: European Commission will not support further subsidies to biofuels unless they can demonstrate "substantial greenhouse gas savings"

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