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25th Mar 2019

EU to cap biofuel target to protect food

  • Green groups called the bill a 'sop' to the biofuel industry (Photo: European Community, 2006)

The EU intends to cap the contribution made by crop-based biofuels to its renewable energy target under draft legislation tabled on Wednesday (17 October) by the European Commission.

The use of food-based biofuels will be limited to 5 percent towards the EU's 10 percent target for renewable energy sources in the transport sector in a bid to avoid competition with food crops.

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The new target is marginally higher than the 4.7 percent level of the EU's fuel consumption which already comes from biofuels.

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.

In a memo published alongside the draft directive, the commission said that around 2 percent of agricultural land in the EU is used for biofuels.

Announcing the bill, EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger said: "This proposal will give new incentives for best-performing biofuels. In the future, biofuels will be saving more substantial greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our fuel import bill."

Under existing EU legislation forests and wetlands cannot be converted for biofuel production. The laws also require that biofuels must emit greenhouse gases that are at least 35 percent lower than fossil fuels, a threshold that will rise to 50 percent from 2017.

The new proposals also take on board the concept of indirect land use change (ILUC). The term refers to greenhouse gas emissions caused when agricultural crops are converted to produce biofuels, meaning that other land has to be exploited to produce food.

Connie Hedegaard, the climate action commissioner said that the aim of the legislation is to "invest in biofuels that achieve real emissions cuts and do not compete with food". The EU executive was "sending a clear signal that future increases in biofuels must come from advanced biofuels."

However, the Green group in the European Parliament gave a mixed reaction to the text.

It welcomed the commission's recognition of ILUC, but accused it of having failed to take account of emissions caused by production.

Green energy spokesperson Claude Turmes commented the "failure to take account of the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from indirect land use change as part of the greenhouse gas savings threshold under the EU's renewable energy legislation is a major shortcoming and no more than a sop to the biofuel industry."

Claire Coffey, policy adviser at pro-green NGO ActionAid UK, criticised the measures as "tokenistic."

"By not proposing to account for greenhouse gas emissions associated with EU biofuels, the European Commission makes an unacceptable mockery of the EU's commitment to tackling climate change," she said.

The revised legislation will now go before MEPs and ministers before it can be adopted into law, with parliament sources expecting a 2014 implementation date.

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