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Was European Vote on Biofuels and Land Use a Fudge?

Was European Vote on Biofuels and Land Use a Fudge?

16 September 2013

ANALYSIS - The European Parliament this week was divided over its attitude to the production and use of biofuels and the effect they have on land use, writes Chris Harris.

In a very close vote in the European Parliament the MEPs refused to allow negotiations to go ahead with member states over the future of the biofuels industry.

The main decisions were that crop based biofuels for transport should make up no more than six per cent of the total and that Indirect Land Use Change factors in the calculations to ensure that biofuels are from sustainable source should not come into effect until 2020.

The limit on crop based biofuels in transport fuel is a little over the recommendation from the European Commission of five per cent but lower than the eight per cent that the industry has been lobbying for.

The MEPs have called for a second reading of the issues and there will be a second debate next year.

However, the parliamentarians have conveniently put off the real decisions until after the European elections next year, so many of those who have prevaricated on these decisions will have left office and they have passed the buck to the next generation of MEPs.

It appears that the MEPs did not have the taste for a fight either with the green lobby and some passionate NGOs or the industry itself in hesitating over a decision over the Indirect Land Use Changes issue.

The industry believes that bringing in factors over indirect land use into the calculations, even after 2020 is a false move as it claims that the reasons are not based on true science.

On the opposite side is the food versus fuel debate and the proponents that land that is used for growing food should not be used for growing fuel crops.

The UK’s Renewable Energy Association has said that the fight will go on to gain a clear decision that will advance the biofuels sector.

REA Head of Renewable Transport Clare Wenner said: Future investments are likely to remain on hold following today’s voting in Strasbourg, which introduces a whole new level of procedural complexity into the ILUC policy situation.

“The six per cent overall cap is too tight and the REA continues to oppose the introduction of ILUC factors until there is convincing scientific evidence that biofuels should be singled out in this way.

“There are some bright spots, though, such as the separate target for advanced biofuels and the continuation of double counting for biofuels made from used cooking oil.

“Today’s vote puts a particular responsibility on the European Member States in the Council, including our own Government, to reach conclusions that will allow the UK biofuels industry to move forward with confidence.”

However, the “bright spot” that Clare Wenner sees in the targets for advanced biofuels and double counting for biofuels made from used cooking oils has been describes as “schizophrenic” by the European Biodiesel Board, because is maintains double counting but does not allow used cooking oil and animal fats to be included in the 2.5 per cent target for advanced biofuels.

The EBB said that waste and residues- based biodiesel provide up to 95 per cent greenhouse gas reduction compared to fossil fuels and it is not justified not to count it among advanced biofuels.

“Should the European Union be truly committed to reduce CO2 in transport, reliance on effective solution such as biodiesel from waste and residues should be fostered and biodiesel from waste and residues should be included in the advanced sub-target, said Raffaello Garofalo EBB Secretary General.

The decision over Indirect Land Use Change is seen as a threat to the industry and nearly a quarter of a million jobs.

Much of the concern is that the decision by the MEPs has been made from evidence of a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) that calculated the biodiesel impact of Indirect Land Use Change as 55gCO2eq/MJ.

The EBB said that US GTAP and French INRA studies showed that slight changes in assumptions used for modelling Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) resulted in biodiesel values amounting to 2.33gCO2eq/MJ, which is between 80 and 95 per cent lower than the IFPRI figures used as the only reference by the European Commission.

“The rather indecisive results seen today show that doubt persists in using a rather young discipline for policy making,” said Mr Garofalo.

“Europe cannot afford to threaten nearly 220,000 jobs based on simplistic ILUC assumptions.”

He added: “European regulators should be proud of the commitment of the EU biodiesel industry to promote a greener economy, foster agriculture and support industrial jobs. European biodiesel should set an example for higher standards, not be punished based on inconclusive science.”

He added that although ILUC factors were introduced in the Fuel Quality Directive, the MEPs adopted with a clear and democratic vote an amendment erasing ILUC factors and figures from the Renewable Energy Directive, “which clearly proves how many doubts exist in the Parliament as well on ILUC measuring and ILUC figures proposed by IFPRI and Commissioner Hedegaard”.

Similar concerns have been expressed by the European farming community.

Copa-Cogeca warned that the move threatens the future of the EU biofuels industry and ignores the reality of biofuel production, as well as market stability, green growth and threatens animal feed supplies.

Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said: “Farmers and industry have invested huge amounts of money in the sector after the EU institutions agreed in 2006 to ensure that 10 per cent of transport fuels come from renewable energy sources by 202o. A U-turn in their approach to reduce this limit to six per cent is totally unacceptable”.

The move jeopardises the EU’s energy and climate change targets, feed supplies for animals and 200, 000 jobs mostly in rural areas.

He insisted: “The co-products from conventional biofuel production, such as rapeseed meal, beet pulp and dried distillers grains play an important role on the feed protein market and in the EU food chain, where the EU is facing an ever-increasing shortage.

“Conventional biofuel production is an efficient way to rebalance the EU’s plant protein deficit , increase the stability of the commodity markets and prices for consumers and farmers and make full use of the EU production capacity to stimulate green growth in rural area.”

A new study also shows that the EU is not threatening food supplies nor causing food price hikes in the rest of the world through biofuels production.

The British National Farmers Union combinable crop adviser James Mills said: “The MEPs have supported a six per cent cap on first generation biofuels, which is an improvement on the European Commission’s initial proposal for five per cent.

“But we still believe this cap, coupled with ILUC factors, is based on inconclusive science that would harm the future of an industry that can deliver real benefits on farm and deliver sustainable production of food, animal feed and renewable fuels. We hope that figure would be increased in the likely event of a second reading.”

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

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