It’s been a time of high drama in the European biofuels world in the last few weeks. A group of key MEPs – the Environment Committee – charged with making recommendations about how to reform European biofuels policy, have gone from being so deadlocked in negotiations we thought a vote might not actually happen, to voting passing a vote that, whilst not going as far as we would like, is certainly great progress.
UK biofuels targets, as well as those across Europe, are driven by European renewable energy targets. Whilst originally introduced as a solution to climate change, it’s now clear most biofuels used in Europe cause just as much climate emissions as the fossil fuels they were designed to replace, and worse still, are fuelling hunger - literally burning food whilst 1 in 8 go hungry. In Europe we burn enough food in our cars to feed over 100 million people every year!
In October last year a new proposal to reform European biofuels policy was announced, giving us a golden opportunity to end the use of Food for Fuel across Europe. The proposal includes measures to cap the proportion of food-based crops being used to meet biofuels targets at 5% (of an overall target of 10% by 2020*). It also proposes using a more comprehensive way to measure the full climate emissions from biofuels. Whilst the proposal doesn’t go as far as it should, this showed great progress and that European decision makers had woken up to the dangers of biofuels in causing hunger.
But since then, industry has been fighting really hard to weaken the proposal and remove any sort of cap on food based biofuels or stricter way of calculating emissions that cause climate change.
The proposal has already been discussed in Council (where energy or environment ministers represent their countries, and where our Energy and Climate Change minister, Ed Davey, has sadly failed to take a lead in supporting the call for Food not Fuel) and is now being scrutinised in the European Parliament. Various committees of MEPs have been feeding back on the proposal, and whilst some have made good suggestions on how to strengthen it, it seemed that the pro biofuels industry lobbyists were winning.
Until early this week, even those we thought would be in favour of tightening up the proposal, seemed ready to throw in the towel and accept a bad outcome. But following negotiations that went right down to the wire, the vote resulted in a proposal to the amount of food burnt in our cars as biofuels at 5.5%. While this is higher than we would like, it’s far better than what was on the table at the beginning of the week. And better still, they’re proposing also including ‘energy crops’ in this cap. This would mean putting the brakes on crops such as jatropha, which can also force poor communities off their land, as in the case of a community we work with in Kisarawe, Tanzania.
This is far from the end. The next step is for all MEPs to vote on the proposal this Autumn. Whilst it is far from certain they will follow, and even build on, the lead set by the ENVI committee today, today is a really important step forwards in stopping the use of Food for Fuel in Europe. But it's really important we keep the pressure up – MEPs are facing elections next year so they should be really responsive to what we, their voters say. Watch this space to see how you can get involved.
* The European Union's Renewable Energy Directive requires EU member states to use 10% of the road transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020, which in practice has become a de facto biofuels target.