You recently wrote about the vexed question of biofuel, reporting that the European Commission will soon take the first steps to tackle the unwanted, indirect effects of its biofuel policy (“France to limit biofuels to 7%”, EuropeanVoice.com, 17 September).
The Commission should be applauded for good policymaking.
In the fifteenth century, Portugal and Spain sought to discover a westward sea route to Asia. Christopher Columbus sailed west and discovered the Americas, rather than Asia. It was a voyage led by the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan that first succeeded in reaching Asia via a revised westward route.
We are entering a new age of discovery and leaders, like navigators, must recognise false turns and have the courage to correct their course.
As the European Union pursues its pathway to its own ambitious goal – to decarbonise Europe's economy by at least 80% by 2050 – it is good that the Commission has recognised it took a false turn in promoting biofuel from food crops.
Critical evidence of the full impact of biofuel was missing in 2008 when the EU set its mandate to get 10% of transport fuels from renewable sources – mostly food crops – by 2020. But now, an overwhelming body of evidence shows us that such a mandate puts untenable pressure on the planet's land and food resources.
Converting crops into vehicle fuel increases overall global demand for agricultural land, which can lead farmers to meet that extra demand by cutting down forests. That results in millions of tonnes of additional carbon emissions, which ultimately makes the carbon footprint of some types of biofuel worse than that of fossil fuels.
Your report suggests that it wants to improve carbon accounting and introduce a 5% cap on biofuel from food crops.
That is improved policymaking. But the Commission now needs to have the courage to follow through.
We also call on the EU to go further, by making the improved carbon-accounting binding in all relevant legislation, including the renewable-energy directive.
Doubtless, the Commission will face heavy lobbying, just as many in the fifteenth century argued the earth was flat. It should follow in the footsteps of early Portuguese pioneers, such as Magellan, who knew the world is indeed round.
Prem Bindraban Director of ISRIC – World Soil Information Wageningen University and Research Centre Netherlands Jason Hill Professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering University of M