21st Mar 2018

MEPs approve plan to put cap on older biofuels

  • A driver filling his car with biodiesel in the US (Photo: Rob E)

The European Parliament's environment committee Tuesday (14 April) approved a plan to try and steer investors away from traditional types of biofuels that have had negative side-effects on food prices, environment and climate change.

The text, agreed after discussions with member states, caps the older types of biofuels, which sometimes replace food crops and may do more environmental harm than good, at 7 percent of the share of total fuel used in transport in the EU.

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  • When wheat is used for biofuel instead of food, it may increase food prices. (Photo: valdemar.fishmen)

The EP's plenary is expected to hold a final vote later in April, bringing to a close a legislative procedure which started with a proposal from the EU commission in October 2012.

In 2003, the EU decided to promote biofuels as an alternative to diesel and petrol, by agreeing on minimum targets. By 2010, 5.75 percent of all the EU's transport fuel were meant to be biofuels. By 2020, this share is supposed to rise to 10 percent.

However, when setting the targets, the EU did not take into account that certain biofuels made from crops could crowd out food crops, leading to increased food prices.

Several studies have also since emerged showing that some biofuels, including types of biodiesel made from palm oil and soy oil, may lead to more to global warming.

This is due to forests being cut down to clear the land necessary for the cultivation of the crops, eliminating the natural capturing of carbon emissions by trees.

The biofuels that have the most negative side-effects are often called 'first generation' or 'conventional', with the more modern ones being called 'second generation' or 'advanced'.

With the refined target for 2020 – only 7 percent of all transport fuel may be a biofuel of the first generation – the EU is now trying to promote advanced biofuels.

Environmental NGOs say Tuesday's cap “confirms the EU’s initial enthusiasm for biofuels was mistaken”.

Much of the advanced biofuels is still at an experimental stage. The compromise text acknowledged that “they are currently not commercially available in large quantities, in part due to competition for public subsidies with established food crop-based biofuel technologies”.

Member states, which needed nine months longer than the European Parliament to reach a common position, did not want a stricter cap, out of fear that this would cost jobs in Europe's young biofuels industry.

Meanwhile, the EU has not managed to achieve its 2010 target, with the most recent figure from statistical agency Eurostat from 2012 putting the share at 5.1 percent.

EU biofuel policy will increase CO2 emissions, study says

An EU target to produce 10 percent of transport energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 will actually increase the level of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the bloc unless changes are made, an independent study has said.

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