Tuesday

28th Mar 2017

EU admits biofuel target problems

The European Commission is re-thinking draft rules on reaching the EU's target to boost biofuels amid strong criticism by green campaign groups and development NGOs that the goal could lead to environmental damage and social dislocation.

The commission is due on 23 January to publish legislation on the production of biofuels, aimed at promoting the use of these alternatives to oil.

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In March last year, EU leaders agreed that 10 percent of transport fuels should come from biofuels by 2020, a goal the commission is now turning into concrete legislation.

But even before making the legislation public, several expert reports have highlighted the possible negative consequences of the target.

Last Friday, a group of 17 NGOs - including Oxfam and Friends of the Earth - sent a letter to EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs, asking him to introduce much tougher standards for biofuel production or give up mandatory transport biofuel targets altogether.

They argued that the existing draft legislation does not provide protection for important ecosystems, such as savannas or permanent grasslands "that may be threatened by expanding agriculture to meet the EU's biofuel target."

"Destruction of these carbon sinks would lead to large emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, thereby reducing or neutralising the benefits from growing biofuels. Neither does the draft text provide any safeguards to protect water and soil resources," they said in a statement.

They also noted that "large scale biofuel production can cause negative indirect or knock-on impacts such as increasing food and feed prices and increasing water scarcity which would lead to negative impacts on the world's poor," in line with earlier studies by a number of experts on the issue.

Biofuels are made of the same products as fossil fuels - plants, trees and animal waste - except they can be produced straight from the product unlike fossil fuels that have been processed over millions of years.

Agricultural products grown for making biofuel include corn, soybeans, rapeseed and others.

In reaction, EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas suggested the pending guidelines should be altered, saying it would be better to miss the biofuels target than to hurt the poor or damage the environment.

"We have seen that the environmental problems caused by biofuels and also the social problems are bigger than we thought they were. So we have to move very carefully," Mr Dimas told the BBC.

"We have to have criteria for sustainability, including social and environmental issues, because there are some benefits from biofuels," he added.

Last September, the EU's plan to boost the use of biofuels as part of wider plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions received a serious blow from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), grouping the world's 30 most developed countries.

The Paris-based body argues that state subsidies for biofuels could lead to food price hikes and damage to forests and natural habitats while its impact in terms of the fight against climate change may only be limited.

A similar conclusion is expected today (14 January) when the Royal Society, the UK's academy of science, publishes a major review of biofuels.

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