Pressure grows to drop EU biofuels targets

Three new reports published this week have called on the EU to drop or severley scale back its biofuels targets. These latest interventiosn by the European Parliament Environment Committee, a study group commissioned by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and a leading Brussels-based think tank show that the tide has now firmly turned against the EU’s current subsidy-fueled march towards using ever more of Europe’s land to grow fuel for cars instead of food for people.

The EP’s Environment Committee adopted a report which advocates a revised 4 per cent target for 2015. The EU’s current target is for ten per cent of transport fuels to made up by biofuels and other renewable sources by 2020. MEPs on the committee voted in favour of the recommendation by 36 to zero, with eight abstentions. Meanwhile, the rapporteur for the Industry Committee, Claude Turmes, suggests abolishing binding biofuels targets altogether. This is the view expressed in a new policy briefing from Breugel, the Brussels-based economics think tank. Its authors say that biofuels targets are ‘an obstacle’ to greenhouse gas emissions reductions:

“setting ambitious biofuels targets has no purpose and can even be counterproductive for tackling climate change.”

The report favours an emissions trading scheme as the best way of achieving emissions reductions at least economic cost.

Finally, this week saw the publication of the much-awaited report of the Gallagher review, set up by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to advise on whether biofuels are contributing to the recent steep rises in the prices of agricultural commodities. The review concludes that,

“[biofuel] feedstock production must avoid agricultural land that would otherwise be used for food production. This is because the displacement of existing agricultural production, due to biofuel demand, is accelerating land-use change and, if left unchecked, will reduce biodiversity and may even cause greenhouse gas emissions rather than savings. The introduction of biofuels should be significantly slowed until adequate controls to address displacement effects are implemented and are demonstrated to be effective. A slowdown will also reduce the impact of biofuels on food commodity prices, notably oil seeds, which have a detrimental effect upon the poorest people.”

The report also calls on the EU to drop its target of 10 per cent by 2020:

Current evidence suggests that the proposed EU biofuels target for 2020 of 10% by energy is unlikely to be met sustainably and the introduction of biofuels should therefore be slowed while we improve our understanding of indirect land-use change and effective systems are implemented to manage risks.

It now seems highly unlikely that the EU will stick to its current biofuels target. The only question is when this will be announced and what the new policy will be.

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