With growing consensus that US and EU biofuel subsidies are among the principal contributors to recent global food price rises, termed a ‘silent tsunami’ by The Economist, EU Trade Commissioner today signaled that Europe needs to reconsider its target of achieving a 10 per cent biofuels mix in transport fuel by 2020. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning, Mandelson said:
“We’ve got to develop our biofuels policy intelligently… I think we need to carefully reflect on the approach that we’re taking.”
He went on to raise concerns about the effects of biofuel cultivation on the environment and the effects on the price of food, and came close to signaling that the EU might reconsider it’s prior commitment to substantial increases in European biofuel production and imports from the Global South:
“I think these matters are under careful review all the time… We’ve got to focus very carefully on how our policies unfold.”
Listen to the interview in full here (Real player required).
Separately, The Guardian newspaper reports several commission officials, speaking anonymously, indicating that the 2020 target may soon be dropped. One reason is that the EU is drafting new sustainability criteria for biofuels which will make such a target impossible to meet. One of the officials is quoted as saying:
“This is all very sensitive and fast-moving. There is now a lot of new evidence on biofuels and the Commission has become a prisoner of this process.”
As recently as a year ago, politicians and the media portrayed biofuels as a silver bullet to tackle the problems of energy security and climate change. These days biofuels are more often portrayed as a ‘crime against humanity’, to use the words of the United Nations special rapporteur Jean Ziegler. Changing EU policy has been likened to turning a supertanker and farm subsidies, once established, can prove notoriously hard to remove. Let’s hope that Mandelson’s words are a sign that the EU really will reconsider its ill-judged rush towards using food for fuel.