The big biofuels story of this week or month or even year is that the European Commission (EC) has now finally come forward with a proposal to amend its biofuels policies, reflecting a groundswell of opinion and scientific evidence that biofuels are bad for the environment and for poor people.
EU biofuels policies have attracted a huge amount of criticism from NGOs, academics, scientists and international organisations because they contain a specific 10% renewable energy in transport target that is being filled primarily by food based biofuels. And this in turn is impacting on millions of poor people as food crop prices are inflated and land taken in the global South to produce additional crops. It is also thought – overall - to generate far more greenhouse gas emissions as a consequence. And yet the policy was designed to reduce the EU’s climate emissions.
The Commission had been expected – indeed requested under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive – to come forward with proposals already in 2010, to address biofuels’ climate emissions, and specifically emissions resulting indirectly from the clearing of forests and peatlands to make way for biofuel crops. When taken into account, these ‘Indirect Land Use Change’ emissions or ILUC emissions mean that most biodiesel feedstocks in the EU are as bad if not worse than the fossil fuels they replace.
But extensive internal wrangling had delayed Commission proposals for two years until a delicate compromise was finally achieved last month. That compromise was not ideal but would at least have ensured that the worst climate offending biofuels with the biggest indirect emissions would no longer have counted towards EU climate and energy targets.
However, in a last minute twist, and under particularly heavy industry lobbying, the Commission buckled and essentially gutted the proposal. What was finally proposed yesterday is essentially an ILUC proposal with no measures to address ILUC.
But all is not lost. On the up side, the Commission has held on to the idea of capping at 5% the amount of food based biofuels that can be counted towards the 10% target. This is an important signal that food to fuel biofuels are not worth investing in, and instead Member States will be able – if the proposal goes through – to provide considerable incentives for non-food and non-land biofuels such as those made from waste or straw. That, so we hope, should redirect investment towards sustainable biofuels and away from food based biofuels.
The 5% cap again is not perfect, since it doesn’t actually stop Member States from turning food into fuel in order to fill other EU obligations, but it is a big start. And even if it was a real limit, the amount of food needed to achieve 5% could feed 190 million people!
So what, in sum, is our conclusion to all this? Well, at today’s official press event, Climate Change Commissioner Hedegaard admitted that the proposal ‘isn’t perfect’. For ActionAid and the millions who suffer as a consequence of EU biofuel policies’ impacts on food and climate, that is a bit of an understatement.
That said, the proposal – while not going far enough – does vindicate ActionAid and other NGOs who have for several years been campaigning against food to fuel biofuels.
But clearly this is not yet the end of the battle! The proposal now goes to the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers; so there are still good campaigning opportunities to improve the proposal before it comes into law. Watch this space!
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