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22nd Jan 2021

MEPs agree cap on crop-based biofuels

  • The EU's support for biofuels has been criticized for contributing to world hunger (Photo: European Community, 2006)

The European Parliament Wednesday (11 September) voted to cap the amount of crop-based biofuels that can be used to reach EU energy targets, but the changes have been criticized for being too limited and not solving the wider problem of market uncertainty.

Under the narrowly agreed changes, food crop-based biofuels should account for no more than 6 percent of the 10 percent target for renewable energy in transport fuels by 2020.

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The move comes amid fears that food-based biofuels will increase world hunger as land is used to produce wheat, rapeseed and corn for biofuels, instead of to feed people.

The most common biofuels to replace petrol and diesel are bioethanol, made from sugar and cereal crops, and biodiesel, which is normally made using vegetable oils.

The 6 percent cap was the subject of extensive wrangling and lobbying within the parliament.

The European Commission had originally proposed 5 percent, which was subsequently raised to 5.5 percent at committee stage before the 6 percent agreed on Wednesday.

The watered-down proposal has been strongly criticized by environmental and development NGOs.

"This anaemic compromise means entirely preventable hunger and environmental devastation will continue. A cap on biofuels of 6 percent is far above current levels of consumption," said Marc Olivier Herman from Oxfam.

Robbie Blake from Friends of the Earth said: "Today’s result will mean that Europe’s biofuel consumption will continue to rise and continue to cause food price rises, deforestation and climate change."

However, the result was also slammed by e-Pure, a lobby group representing the bioethanol industry.

"At a time when we need to boost our economy it is difficult to see why MEPs agree to curtail jobs and investment in a sector that helps Europe to grow the production of clean and sustainable fuels”, the group's Secretary General, Rob Vierhout, said.  

The EU obligation that 10 percent of land-transport energy come from renewable sources by the 2020 dates back to 2008.

For a short while biofuels were hailed in the EU as an all round good answer to rising transport CO2 emissions.

But they soon suffered a fall from grace when green groups started to look at the impact of the EU's targets, with fears that biofuels themselves could cause a rise in greenhouse gases as forests in developing countries were cleared to grow the relevant crops.

Parliament recognised the potential problem of land previously used to grow crops for food being converted to grow crops for fuel. But it voted to only account for the carbon emissions from biofuels from 2020.

Meanwhile, euro deputies were also criticised for not giving a mandate to the lead MEP on the file, French Liberal Corinne Lepage, to directly negotiate a final compromise with member states.

This means the timing of the legislation remains unclear, leaving industry in continued uncertainty about the future of EU biofuels policy.

In Wednesday's vote, MEPs said advanced biofuels from non-food sources like seaweed or farm waste should account for at least 2.5 percent of energy consumption in road and rail transport by 2020.

Green groups agree that sustainable non-food biofuels can be a part of the energy mix but argue that more focus should be put on innovative technologies.

EU to cap biofuel target to protect food

The EU intends to cap the contribution made by crop-based biofuels to its renewable energy target under draft legislation tabled on Wednesday.

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