Today will be a mammoth news day at the European Commission, with the resignation of health commissioner John Dalli late yesterday and the hugely controversial proposal on addressing indirect land use change (ILUC) in EU legislation on biofuel.
The latter has the potential of being rather embarrassing for the Commission, particularly for its climate department. A new draft circulating this week suggests that the proposal has been watered down since the Commission's climate and energy departments reached a compromise last month.
In this latest draft, the measures to combat possible effects on food prices appear to have been kept in, but the measures to counter the increased emissions caused by biofuel cultivation have been dropped. According to reports, a cap on the amount of biofuel produced from food crops that can be used to meet the quota under the renewable energy directive has been maintained. But the ILUC ratings in the fuel quality directive have been changed so they are only for reporting purposes, not binding.
In other words, a producer of biofuels from palm oil can continue clearing rainforest to make biofuels until 2020, it just has to note that it is doing so. The assumption is that these ratings would then become binding after 2020.
Negotiations are apparently going down to the wire and it's still possible that the version agreed today will be different than this latest draft, which was apparently agreed on Monday. But if this latest draft is adopted it will be seen as a victory for the biofuels industry, which lobbied fiercely over the past month after being angered by what they saw in the draft. They said it would kill their sector.
Campaigners are likely to be furious with this move, and scientists may be as well. It is noticeable that between the emissions impacts and the food impacts, there is far more scientific evidence for the former than the latter. And yet it is lessening the impact on food prices which has been maintained in this proposal, while the effort to lessen the impact on emissions has been taken out.
When this debate first started, the focus was mostly on the increased emissions that can be caused by ILUC rather than food prices. But now, with spiking food prices, impacts on food have become the big issue of the day, even though scientific evidence for whether biofuel is affecting food prices and availability has been questioned.
The battle to spin this is evident from the number of announcements and press conferences scheduled for this afternoon. Following the Commission's press conference at 13:00, there will be a biofuels panel pitting the industry against campaigners at 14:30 at the World Development Day conference. Following that, the biofuel industry has scheduled its own press conference to discuss the proposal at 15:30 here in the international press centre.
Dave Keating reports on the interrelated issues of environment, energy, climate change, transport, health, agriculture, fisheries and research for European Voice. In this blog, Dave brings you insights into the sometimes byzantine world of European Union policymaking as well as the equally confusing nature of life in Brussels. Originally from outside New York City, Dave has lived in Europe for six years. He can be reached at DaveKeating@economist.com.