Wednesday

13th Dec 2017

EU biofuel policy will increase CO2 emissions, study says

  • '[The] use of additional conventional biofuels up to 2020 ... would lead to 80.5 percent and 167 precent more greenhouse gas emissions' (Photo: jurvetson)

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.

Forecast increases in EU biofuel use as a result of the policy goal will lead to a mass conversion of natural habitats into fields of biofuel crops as overseas producers strive to meet the added demand, the report published by the Institute for European Environmental Policy on Monday (8 November) says.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Natural lands, including rainforests and savannah, store and sequester carbon in their soil and biomass as plants grow each year, making them important components in the flight against climate change, caused by rising CO2 levels.

"The additional demand for these fuels is anticipated to lead to between 4.1 and 6.9 million hectares of indirect land use change (ILUC), i.e. an area equivalent to just larger than Belgium to just under that of the Republic of Ireland," says the report, which is backed by a large number of environmental and development NGOs.

The document's authors calculated these figures using recently released studies by the European Commission, based on data from 23 member state plans (NREAPs) which outline how national governments intend to reach the renewable energy target, outlined in the bloc's 2009 Renewable Energy Directive.

"[The] use of additional conventional biofuels up to 2020 on the scale anticipated in the 23 NREAPs would lead to between 80.5 percent and 167 precent more greenhouse gas emissions than meeting the same need through fossil fuel use," says the report.

The damning conclusion comes at a critical juncture in the EU legislative process, with the commission due to release its own report on land use change by the end of this year.

This in turn is likely to lead to new a legislative proposal next year, possibly calling for indirect land use change effects to be taken into account when selecting which biofuels member states should use to reach the 10 percent transport target.

For its part, the commission has rejected the main findings of Monday's report, saying the EU has enough unused agricultural land to meet the expected increase in biofuel demand. "The renewable energy directive says very clearly that it is not allowed to to chop down forests to produce biofuels," an official said.

The high-stakes game has resulted in a pitched battle in Brussels, as both biofuel producers and environmental NGOs seek to gain the upper hand.

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) is among those who say the recent commission studies are inherently flawed, failing to take into account important characteristics of certain individual states.

Emmanuel Desplechin, the group's chief representative to the EU, dismissed the problem of indirect land changes and pointed to a Brazilian government plan that forbids sugarcane production in environmentally sensitive areas. "The EU studies failed to use enough international experts who can point these issues out," he told this website.

Second-generation biofuels

The growing debate has refocused some attention on long-awaited second generation biofuels, those produced from residual non-food parts of current crops, such as stems and leaves, rather than the food crop itself as is the case for current biofuels.

The commission has tried to promote member-state use of second generation fuels by means of a 'double counting' system under the Renewable Energy Directive, but national plans make little reference to them.

"While the commission promised the directive would stimulate greater use of second-generation biofuels - it is clear from member states' targets that this was a total deception, or at least overblown optimism," said Friends of the Earth campaigner Robbie Blake.

Some businesses are also unhappy with the slow progress in this area.

"The spirit of the renewable energy directive is good but the double-counting system is not enough," Lars Hansen, president of Novozymes Europe, told EUobserver in a recent interview.

The Danish company produces enzymes needed to break down tough agricultural waste products and allow biofuels to be produced. "Our message is that the technique is ready but that its not going to move unless the regulatory framework is correct," he said.

A number of green groups also criticise second-generation biofuel production, arguing that the fuel requires increased use of fertiliser to replace lost soil nutrients.

MEPs approve plan to put cap on older biofuels

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.

News in Brief

  1. Russia looks to crypto-currencies to evade EU sanctions
  2. Juncker embroiled in Luxembourg wire-tapping trial
  3. Kurz close to forming new Austrian right-wing government
  4. Ministers reach deal on fish quotas but overfishing continues
  5. UK parliament to vote on right to veto final Brexit deal
  6. French government rules out Corsican autonomy
  7. Salmonella food poisoning on rise in Europe
  8. EU institutions agree to start talks on lobby register

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. 2018 fishing quotas agreed - but Brexit muddies waters
  2. Medical HQ to spearhead EU military push
  3. Facebook to shift ad revenue away from Ireland
  4. EU renews glyphosate approval, pledges transparency
  5. Romania searching for EU respectability
  6. Last chance for Poland to return property to rightful owners
  7. Commission attacks Tusk on 'anti-European' migrant plan
  8. VW to EU: We will fail on recall promise

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level