EU biofuels sustainability criteria 'not green protectionism'

04.03.08 @ 17:42

  1. By Leigh Phillips

BRUSSELS - European environment officials have denied that sustainability criteria for the import of biofuels is a form of "green protectionism" to be used against Latin American alternative energy products.

  • Brazil is one of the world's biggest producers of bioethanol, which is derived from sugar cane (Photo: Wikipedia)

"Not by any means are sustainability criteria for biofuels an indication of green protectionism on the part of the EU," said Soledad Blanco, the director of international affairs in the European Commission's environment unit, on Tuesday (4 March).

"The commission's proposals for sustainability criteria are linked to the legitimate environmental concerns European and global citizens have," she added, speaking at a press conference during a meeting of some 61 environment ministers from across Latin America and the Caribbean and the EU.

The meeting, which saw Latin American, Caribbean and European environment ministers meet for the first time to discuss cooperation on combating climate change, comes ahead of the fifth bi-annual EU-Latin America and the Caribbean (EU-LAC) summit, which will take place in Lima, Peru in May.

Ms Blanco pointed out that between them, the 61 countries from the two regions have substantial power to push forward international consensus on the issue.

The ministers focussed on adaptation to and mitigation of the effects of climate change; sustainable energy technologies, including biofuels; and issues concerning biofuels and deforestation.

Brazilian environment minister Marina Silva gave a presentation to the assembled government department chiefs emphasising the sustainability of the country's bioethanol and the beneficial social effects of the industry in her country.

Brazil is one of the world's biggest producers of bioethanol, which in the Portuguese-speaking Latin American country is derived from sugar cane.

Asked about concerns Mexico has over food price increases that may result from their development, Manuel Bernales, president of Peru's National Council for the Environment, said that combating climate change must be linked to sustainability and social concerns.

"Combating climate change should be linked to biodiversity and overcoming poverty and inequality," said Mr Bernales.

At the same time, he insisted that biofuels from Latin America will meet "the most demanding standards."

Slovenian environment minister Janez Podobnik, representing the Slovenian EU presidency, pointed to an ad-hoc working group that had been formed at the end of February that will look at drafting fuel sustainability criteria for both the proposed renewable energy directive and an earlier proposed fuel quality directive. This group is expected to offer its recommendations at the end of March.

As part of its far-reaching climate and energy package unveiled in January, the commission proposed a target of ten percent use of biofuels in transport, but announced at the same time that any such fuels would have to meet strict sustainability criteria.

The move was made to assuage the fears of environmental groups that far from reducing carbon emissions, on a net basis, they would actually increase them.

Brazil, however, which, along with the United States, produces some 69 percent of the world's supply of ethanol, is concerned that Europe is now getting cold feet over biofuels.