Monday

12th Apr 2021

Interview

New documentary shows how biofuels lobby played parliament

  • Sergio Ghizzardi, director of the film Green Gold (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Five Germans ruined it all for former French MEP Corrine Lepage.

Lepage, a member of the liberal Alde group, spearheaded the reform of the EU's biofuels policy. In 2013, she asked the European Parliament's plenary for a mandate to negotiate on the file with the EU Council, but was defeated by one vote, thanks to a handful of German liberal MEPs who voted against.

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  • 'I could have written a book,' said Ghizzardi of his experience documenting the biofuels saga (Photo: Sergio Ghizzardi)

The scene is a key moment in filmmaker Sergio Ghizzardi's new documentary, 'Green Gold', out this week.

"Five guys from her own party voted against because they have been lobbied by the German lobby," Ghizzardi said in an interview.

The Belgian documentary-maker spoke to EUobserver in a cafe in Brussels, ahead of the preview screening of his film in the city's centre for fine arts Bozar, on Monday (20 November).

It may be one of the key takeaways from Ghizzardi's film: the strength of the biofuels lobby. Remarkably, it is a lobby that has grown in response to EU policy.

The documentary tells the story of how the EU decided to embrace the use of biofuels, only to find out that it had not properly considered all the negative consequences.

Biofuels come in several types and forms, roughly divided between the labels 'first generation/conventional', and 'second generation/advanced'.

In particular the biofuels from the first generation have come under fire because of their unintended consequences on the environment, climate, and sometimes even food prices.

The film, seven years in the making, shows the effects of the EU's biofuels policy across the world, including deforestation in Argentina and Indonesia.

In the 2000s, the EU decided to promote biofuels as an alternative to fossil-based fuels petrol and diesel.

By 2010, 5.75 percent of all transport fuel was supposed to be biofuels. For 2020, the target is 10 percent.

But for years the targets did not specify if and when food crops may be used as biofuels, and how to prevent forests – which can suck up greenhouse gases – from being cut to make way for biofuel crops.

"We see that palm oil is emitting three times more CO2 emissions than petrol," said Ghizzardi.

But thanks in part to the EU targets, a powerful lobby has emerged to defend the first generation biofuels, including against the promotion of second generation biofuels.

"The ones who have got the power, they don't let you get in their market without fighting," he said.

The legislation later was adopted in 2015, and included sub-targets for second generation biofuels for 2020.

Then in November 2016, the European Commission proposed to reduce the share of first generation biofuels even further.

But Ghizzardi decided against putting these developments in the film.

"Seeing the face of Mrs Lepage losing the vote afterwards, it explained much more, more than any complex words or whatever," he said.

"I could have written a book. But in documentary you have got only 90 minutes, and that's already long."

The film also leaves out much of the role of the Council of the EU, where national governments meet.

Member states' national governments are "more powerful" than the European Parliament, said Ghizzardi, yet his film is much more focused on the role of the Parliament.

The reason? "That's always a question of access," said Ghizzardi.

"In the member states the lobby is even stronger," said Ghizzardi, noting that more often economic interests were at play rather than environmental ones.

"Everybody was defending his own champion, and his own interests," he added.

But it was difficult to put that in a documentary, he said, because national governments "don't really want to speak about that".

The experience has not made Ghizzardi a eurosceptic. "No, not at all."

"European institutions are really at the core of the political system in Europe," he said.

Instead, one should be sceptical of "the game of the member states", he said, more than the EU institutions themselves.

His next project is about how democracy could be reformed.

Green Gold will be shown in a preview in Bozar, Brussels, on 20 November, and will premiere in Belgium on 22 November

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The European Parliament's environment committee Tuesday 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.

MEPs agree cap on crop-based biofuels

The EU parliament has capped the amount of crop-based biofuels that can be used to reach EU energy targets amid environmental fears.

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.

EU to phase out most harmful biofuels

EU negotiators have reached a deal on a new renewable energy directive. 'One of the most sensitive issues during the negotiations was biofuels from food and feed crops,' said MEP Bas Eickhout.

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