The Commission proposed in October to revise EU renewable energy legislation so that biofuel derived from food crops or causing indirect land-use change (ILUC) can count to at most half of the 10% quota for renewable transport fuel. The remaining half would be supplied by new 'second generation' biofuels that do not cause ILUC or come from food crops.
But at a debate on the subject this morning it was clear that only a few member states support this proposal. There is concern that the biofuel industry has made significant investment based on the target set in the legislation, and to change course now would cause the industry to collapse. A Polish official said after the discussion that they and other member states feel that there is a risk that the directive will not be implemented if this sudden change is introduced.
The Netherlands, Denmark and the UK support the idea of restricting some biofuels, and want the EU to go further by restricting certain based on ILUC impact weightings. UK climate and energy minister Ed Davey scolded his fellow ministers for not supporting the decision. “We've made a real mistake in the EU [on biofuels] and we've got to end that mistake, the sooner the better.”
Danish energy minister Martin Lidegaard said the proposed cap on use of food-based biofuels should be lowered from 5% to 4%.
Connie Hedegaard, European commissioner for climate action, told the ministers that the Commission is “committed to the proposal” and believes it would be a mistake to dilute it. “Allowing a higher cap would significantly diminish the efficacy [of the proposal] to reduce greenhouse gases from biofuels,” she said.
“Not everything that starts with bio is good,” she added.
However Gunther Oettinger, European commissioner for energy, told energy ministers meeting last month that the Commission is “flexible” on the cap, indicating a conflict within the Commission. On Wednesday (27 March) the Commission's energy department will release a long-awaited report on the social impacts of the renewable energy directive.
SDG energy is putting out a report next Wednesday, long-awaited social impacts of the renewable energy directive. The report was originally due in 2012, but has been delayed because of the controversy over the ILUC issue. It will look at the impact of the policy globally, of land use rights as well as food availability and labour considerations.
Environmental campaigners have expressed concern about the methodology used in the report, saying it grossly underestimates the impacts in third world countries.
This week campaign group Oxfam held meetings with member state representatives and MEPs along with a representative of a family farming association in Brazil and a representative of an indigenous peoples alliance in Indonesia. They both told the EU lawmakers that the EU's renewable energy directive, along with the fuel quality directive which requires fuel producers to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels by at least 6%, is driving landgrabs in those two countries.
“Almost all EU member states have put the interests of an unsustainable biofuels industry before those of people and the planet,” said Marc-Olivier Herman, a policy advisor for Oxfam, after today's debate. “European consumers are unknowingly financing hunger and environmental destruction in poor countries through the billions of euros they pay as a result of mandates, tax incentives and subsidies to biofuels.”
But FEDIOL, the federation of the vegetable oil and protein meal industry, says the Commission proposal to limit biofuel use is “built on false assumptions”. “The lack of scientific robustness does not support the use of ILUC factors in legislation,” the association has said.