MEPs approved a compromise agreement on Tuesday (14 April) on a law limiting the use of harmful biofuels, following extensive negotiations with the Council of Ministers.
The new legislaton will cap the amount of biofuels from agricultural crops used to achieve the EU’s transport targets of 10% renewable energy by 2020.
“It was a very challenging file and we didn’t achieve all we wanted to achieve. There are very different capabilities and approaches between member states on advanced biofuels, some are willing to go forward more than others, as well as a very profound disagreement on ILUC factors,” said MEP Nils Torvalds (ALDE).
Unlimited use of biofuels over the years has increased food prices and deforestation, as biofuels and food crops compete for the same agricultural land.
Parliament and the Council agreed to adopt a new law to diminish harmful effects on the environment from these biofuels, and from indirect land use change (ILUC).
ILUC is the unintended consequence of releasing more carbon emissions after turning forests into agricultural land in response to the increased global demand for biofuels.
“This is an important reform that will support the development of new advanced biofuels in Europe without hampering the use of climate-effective ethanol and biodiesel”, said MEP Christofer Fjellner (EPP), who is responsible for negotiations on the biofuels legislation.
Environmental groups have cautiously welcomed the agreement, claiming it is not ambitious enough.
“After years of industry and member state lobbying, this agreement is far weaker than the Commission’s original proposal. Nevertheless, it sends a clear signal that land-based biofuels have no future role to play in Europe,” said Pietro Caloprisco, Senior Policy Officer at Transport & Environment.
Following lengthy negotiations, MEPs gave in to the Council of Ministers’ request to cap the use of harmful biofuels at 7%. The European Parliament had asked for a 6% cap, but compromised after a provision was included to allow member states to go lower if they wished so.
Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s EU biofuels expert, said that the 7% target should be seen as a first step in limiting crop-based biofuels.
“Europe must phase out these fuels completely so they can no longer jeopardize food security and contribute to climate change,” Herman said.
Lawmakers also agreed to have fuel suppliers and the European Commission report on emissions deriving from ILUC. But they failed to have these emissions included in the carbon accounting, a method calculating for greenhouse gas emissions in order to identify the most polluting biofuels.
This means that the most damaging biofuels will still be allowed to count towards renewable targets. It will also slow the move to advanced biofuels that derive from biomass other than food crops.
Lawmakers took a less ambitious stand on advanced biofuels in the final text. MEPs accepted the Council’s proposal to set an optional target of 0.5% for advanced biofuels, instead of having a compulsory target, as previously demanded by the Parliament.
Not ambitious enough
Despite extended negotiations in trilogue meetings, the result was criticized by the Greens in the European Parliament, who voted against the adoption of the law. MEP Bas Eickhout (Greens), said that the agreement “falls far short of what is required to address the myriad of problems with the EU’s biofuels policy”.
“This legislation was supposed to ensure the EU does not continue to promote biofuels that exacerbate climate change and have a negative social impact but what has been agreed and voted today will not do so. It is a major missed opportunity,” he said.
The Social Democrats are not fully content with the result, either.
“We would have liked to go further, but given the lack of cooperation in the Council, we felt that this was the best possible deal at the moment. It was obvious from the get-go that the Council had decided to give very little ground on this package, but to bend to the will of a strong industrial lobbying operation, to the point where trilogues were almost a charade,” said Seb Dance, the S&D’s environment spokesperson.
“I am particularly saddened to see the Greens voting against this file – knowing only too well that having this achieved is better than nothing, while crowing that it isn’t good enough,” Dance concluded.