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Going beyond a 5.6 pe share of biofuels in transport fuel could harm the environment, found a new report made public

by the European Commission on 25 March, suggesting that the EU's current target is only borderline sustainable.

In December 2008, EU leaders reached agreement on a new Renewable Energy Directive, which requires each member state to satisfy 10% of its transport fuel needs from renewable sources, including biofuels, hydrogen and green electricity, by 2020 (see EurActiv LinksDossier).

The directive also established sustainability criteria for biofuels. It obliges the bloc to ensure that biofuels offer at least 35% carbon emission savings compared to fossil fuels. The figure rises to 50% as of 2017 and 60% as of 2018 (EurActiv 05/12/08).

However, concerns have been raised that increased biofuel production would result in massive deforestation and have severe implications for food security, as energy crops replace other land uses (so-called 'indirect land-use change').

The Renewable Energy Directive and the Fuel Quality Directive, agreed as part of the EU's climate change and energy package in December last year, require the European Commission to compile a report "reviewing the impact of indirect land-use change on greenhouse gas emissions" and to seek ways to minimise its impact


The report, compiled for the Commission by the International Food Policy Institute (IFPRI), concludes that indirect land-use change has "an important effect on the environmental sustainability of biofuels". Nevertheless, it argues that current EU renewable energy targets are small enough to safeguard the environmental sustainability of biofuels.

The EU's Renewable Energies Directive mandates a 10 percent share of renewable energies in transport fuels by 2020. The report assumes that only 5.6 percent  of this would come from first-generation biofuels.

But experts said this is a gross underestimation because the other options - electric cars and second-generation biofuels produced from waste and non-food crops - will not in reality be widely available by 2020.

The report is the first in a series of four studies the EU executive has commissioned as a contribution to its own report on indirect land-use change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. That report, due out by the year's end, will measure the extent to which the production of first-generation biofuels contributes to emissions by replacing crops grown for food production and accelerating deforestation. It will outline measures to address the issue.

"Indirect land-use change effects do indeed offset part of the emission benefits but are not a threat at the currently estimated volume of 5.6% of road transport fuels required to meet the 10% renewable energy mandate by 2020," the Commissions said in a note.

The report points out, however, that quantities above 5.6% would give rise to "a real risk" of undermining the environmental viability of biofuels.

"The EU's biofuels strategy is looking more and more unsustainable,
" said Adrian Bebb, European agrofuels campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth Europe.

"The EU policy is gambling with the world's tropical forests, with food crisis and with climate change,"

he said, calling for the target to be revised.

But the industry says targeting biofuels alone will not address the issue of deforestation in the EU's large palm oil-exporting partners, Malaysia and Indonesia. Only a small share of the palm oil entering the EU is used for biofuels. The rest is used in everything from everyday products like lipstick and ice cream to electricity and heat generation.

The European Biodiesel Board (EEB) estimates that the biofuel industry used only around 4.5 percent of palm oil imports in 2008.

"Biofuels are going to be the most monitored and sustainably certified product in the world,

said Raffaello Garofalo, secretary-general of the European Biodiesel Board (EEB). He stated that the biofuel industry is happy to set the standard, but stressed that the next step must be to extend similar sustainability requirements to other products using the same raw materials.

Written by Roger Tolman
Monday, 29 March 2010 8:08

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