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26th Aug 2019

Biofuel findings put pressure on EU commission to change policy

  • Shrinking forests - biofuels would only increase deforestation (Photo: leoffreitas)

The European Commission is under pressure to alter EU-wide agreed targets of replacing 10 percent of fossil fuels with renewable energy by 2020, as its own internal studies have proven that biofuels have a negative impact on the environment and food production.

EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger is considering a re-think of policies towards spurring the use of biofuels gained from crops such as rapeseed and palm oil, as they can lead to mass deforestation and food supply disruptions, Financial Times Deutschland reports.

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Parts of the internal study were published by the EU executive at the end of last month, amid growing pressure from MEPs and environmental groups.

It continued to make the case for biofuels, but capped the "sustainability" level at 5.6 percent of traditional fossil fuels, suggesting that a higher percentage would harm the environment and endanger food crops, as they would compete for the same farm land.

Mr Oettinger's office is still keeping silent on the estimates for higher levels, saying the work is not yet conclusive. But pressure from the agri-business is mounting, FTD writes, as EU's bio-diesel production, mainly from rapeseed, is worth billions of euros.

If the commission's estimates are not "guided" in the right direction, they could "kill" this industry, warns a memo drafted by the executive's agriculture unit, seen by the German paper.

The clock is ticking, as member states should decide by June how they plan to reach a target - agreed in 2008 – to replace 10 percent of the traditional fossil fuels with renewable energy. Since electric cars are still in their infancy, biofuels would have been the most handy alternative.

In the UK, the government has decided to wait for the findings of several studies due to be released later this year before holding a formal consultation and then making their decision on whether to push ahead with the controversial fuel source.

Meanwhile, in France, another study released last week re-inforced the ammunition of biofuel critics. Commissioned by French energy and environment agency Ademe, the study suggests that biofuels may even have a worse emissions profile than traditional fossil fuels.

Factors such as the clearing of forests to grow crops could cut the emissions benefits of both non-European biofuel production, and also output in Europe through the indirect effect of importing biofuel components, it notes.

"The significance of these effects ... warrants further work in order to establish how to take into account land use changes in the (emissions) balances of products made with agricultural raw materials," the French study said.

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