Monday

20th Feb 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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.

Column / Crude World

Nord Stream 2: The elephant in the room

The European Commission should provide a thorough impact assessment of Nord Stream 2, a project that appears to go against all of its Energy Union objectives.

News in Brief

  1. Migrants storm Spanish enclave of Ceuta
  2. Spain's princess fined for tax fraud, husband sentenced
  3. EU to invest millions in energy infrastructure
  4. Dutch data watchdog forces online vote aides to up security
  5. EU allows Lithuania to ban Russian tv channel
  6. Finland announces increase in defence spending
  7. Ex-PM Blair says Brits should 'rise up' against Brexit
  8. Nato chief says facts to prevail over fake news

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  3. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  4. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  5. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  7. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  8. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  9. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  10. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  11. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  12. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  3. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean
  4. World VisionGaza Staff Member Pleads Not Guilty
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region First to Consider Complete Ban on Microplastics in Cosmetics
  6. Dialogue PlatformWhy the West 'Failed to Understand' Turkey
  7. European Jewish CongressInternational Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony
  8. European Free AllianceCatalan Independence Referendum: A Matter of Democracy
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsKyrgyzstan: No Justice for Human Rights Defender Azimjan Askarov
  10. Dialogue PlatformThe Influence of Turkish Politics in Europe After the Coup Attempt
  11. World VisionEU Urged to Do Better Ahead of Helsinki Conference on Syria
  12. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children