EU reshapes its biofuels policy

April 16, 2015 |

EuropeJettisons indirect land use change for now, citing poor data visibility; caps food-crop biofuels to 7%; limits proposed Directives to 2020.

In Brussels, the European Parliament’s Environmental Committee has voted this week to endorse the Council’s proposed compromise on reform of the EU biofuels policy, and indirect land use change. The final vote was 51 votes in favor, 12 against, and 1 abstention, and is expected to be approved by Parliament’s Plenary later this month.

Cap on food-crop based fuels

Current legislation requires EU member states to ensure that renewable energy accounts for at least 10% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. The compromise approved today states that first-generation biofuels (from crops grown on agricultural land) should account for up to 7% of final energy consumption in transport by 2020. The overall target is 10 percent.

ILUC is out, for now

Taking into account indirect land-use changes (iLUC factors) as a penalty for European biofuels was rejected because of an insufficient scientific basis.

However, fuel suppliers will report the estimated level of emissions caused by freeing up more land to grow food crops needed when land has been switched to biofuel crop production, known as indirect land-use change (ILUC) to EU countries and the Commission. The Commission will then report and publish data about these ILUC-related emissions. Later, the Commission is expected to report back to the EP and the Council, based on best available science, on the scope for including ILUC emission factors in the existing sustainability criteria.

2020 and no more, for now

The new provisions of the EU Directives for Renewable Energies and Fuel Quality, however, are only valid until the end of 2020.  The result, according to observers, is that the necessary “long-term conditions for investments in the production of biofuels, also from residues and waste, are lacking.”

As Norbert Schindler, a member of the Bundestag and Chairman of the BDBe, the German ethanol trade organization observed: “This reform to EU biofuel policy is the result of a somewhat irrational debate on biofuels. For example, the goal is to reduce car traffic by 50%. This will mean nothing other than cars only for the wealthy and bicycles for the common man.”

But Schindler observed, “On a positive note, the EU did not bend to unjustified criticism about biofuels from some non-governmental organisations. They oppose biofuels for ideological reasons and call for the mixture of biofuels with fossil petrol and diesel as an integral part of the energy reform to be rescinded. A subsequent increase in petroleum consumption again can then be used as an argument to ban driving to the extent possible.”

Boosting advanced biofuels

EU member states will have to set a national target, no later than 18 months after the directive enters into force, for advanced biofuels, e.g. sourced from certain types of waste and residues and new sources such as seaweed. The draft legislation sets an indicative target of 0.5% for the share of energy to be produced from advanced biofuels as a percentage of the energy derived from renewable sources in all forms of transport by 2020. Member states may set a lower target on certain grounds, such as a limited potential for production, technical or climatic constraints, or the existence of national policies that already allocate commensurate funding to incentives for energy efficiency and electric transport.

No binding targets are a mistake, says ePURE

‘The absence of binding targets for advanced biofuels and renewable energy (ethanol) use in petrol, both key measures to differentiate better biofuels, and both supported previously by the European Parliament on several occasions, undermines the core objectives of this reform’, said Robert Wright, Secretary General of ePURE.

“ePURE has consistently advocated for a swift and balanced closure of the ILUC file in order to restore a degree of regulatory and market certainty. We therefore welcome progress towards a conclusion of this file. The non-inclusion of these items represents a missed opportunity to amend this legislation in a meaningful way that is consistent with the aims of the Commission’s original proposal. ePURE therefore calls upon EU policy makers to address these gaps as part of the envisaged review of the Renewable Energy Directive by end 2017, as well as during the definition of the post-2020 energy and climate framework.”

“While today’s vote is a first step to providing some policy certainty to the industry, the result does not sufficiently incentivize the use of biofuels with better GHG performance. The draft legislation is also inconsistent with the EU’s commitment to promote innovation and investment and protect sustainable jobs and economic growth”, concluded Robert Wright.

Schindler emphasises: “The CO2 emissions of cars must be lowered. But the answer is not to ban driving cars. All available means including biofuels, electric vehicles and efficiency improvements must be used. Germany, with its ongoing obligation to lower CO2 emissions of fuels, is on the right path. This path also has to be enforced in the other EU member states.”

Opposition from the UK Farmer’s Union

The National Farmers Union farmer expert on biofuels, Brett Askew, said that the result will do nothing but limit the scope of these potential benefits by imposing scientifically questionable ILUC factors and a cap on the contribution crop based biofuels can make in achieving the minimum of 10 per cent Renewable Transport Fuel by 2020. The NFU said that the proposed cap on the volume of crops allowed to be used for biofuel processing will further expose farmers to market volatility as it will narrow the biofuels market for wheat, oilseed rape and sugar beet.

Mr Askew, who is the NFU Crops Board Chairman for the North East of England, said: “Legislators have clearly been bullied into this U-turn by a series of environmental and social pressure groups that, until recently, stood shoulder to shoulder with industry and praised the potential contribution of biofuels in decarbonising the transport sector.”

Accordingly. NFU is urging UK MEPs to reject a draft law limiting the amount of crops involved in biofuel production which is to be presented to the European Parliament at the end of the month.

The NFU believes that the ‘food vs. fuel’ basis for the legislation is invalid as the stable, reliable and domestic supply high-protein animal feed made from the biofuel processing co-product is vital for UK livestock producers.

The NFU blamed the debate over indirect land use change, charging that “This prolonged and polarised debate on ILUC has reduced the level of ambition in Europe to promote biofuels, and the NFU has continued to reiterate the significant benefits sustainable biofuels have on the environment and the economy.”

Furthermore, it says with Europe signalling farmers to produce less, there will be a negative impact on overall grain production and therefore food security. The indirect impact on UK farmers is a reduction in export opportunities for biofuel crops; countries like Germany, the main importer of UK oilseed rape for that purpose, will buy less.

“MEPs have one last chance to demonstrate their commitment to decarbonising the European transport sector while at the same time decreasing the UK and Europe’s protein deficit,” said Askew. “It is therefore vital that the compromise text is rejected in plenary on the 29th April.”


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