EU urged to adjust biofuel policy
The European Union should adjust course on biofuel, according to the economist leading a key study on the plant fuels for the European Commission.
David Laborde, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, told European Voice that greenhouse-gas emissions caused by biofuel may call into question an EU target to derive 10% of transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020.
Laborde was asked by the Commission to study the effects of EU biofuel policy on land-use patterns. His work, yet to be published, concludes that changes in land use caused by biofuel mean that the policy may cause more emissions than previously realised. "It is obvious that they cannot neglect the fact that there is a land-use change effect [and] that it can be very strong," he said.
His findings put pressure on Günther Oettinger and Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioners for energy and climate change respectively, who must decide by July whether EU law needs to be changed.
The crucial question centres on the unintended consequences of biofuel: if a farmer plants crops for fuel, then forests or grasslands may be ploughed up for food supplies. This ripple effect, known as indirect land-use change, has concerned academics and greens; but until now the EU has argued that the science is too immature to act.
Amandine Lacourt, the deputy secretary-general of the European Biodiesel Board, claimed that the concept of land-use change was "still highly debatable". "It is important not to rush into a hasty policy that is not based on science," she said.
Growing pressure to change EU biofuel policy
Powering cars with plants once seemed like an unstoppable idea. Biofuel was sold as a way to reduce Europe's oil dependency on autocratic regimes, meet climate-change targets and help Europe's struggling farmers. But since the European Union agreed laws to promote biofuel, doubts have sprouted like weeds. Now it looks increasingly likely that the EU will have to rewrite bioenergy laws to guard against their unintended consequences.