Thursday, September 20, 2012

[biofuelwatch] Hold on - has the EC just banned biofuels?

Hold on - has the EC just banned biofuels?

There has been a breath-taking series of events happening around biofuel policy in the last week:
The United Nations has demanded that biofuel targets be dropped by G20 countries at their emergency meeting on food prices in October. France and Austria both announced to limit the use of biofuels from crops. On top of that a draft law was leaked from the European Commission that could have far reaching implications for how we tackle climate emissions from road transport.

Let's have a closer look at this proposal and what it actually means for biofuels.

This draft text is the long-awaited proposal on Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) that the Commission was expected to publish 21 months ago.

The proposal was meant to stop biofuels that result in higher GHG emissions than fossil fuels due to the emissions from deforestation their expansion causes. Science figures show biofuel from crops like palm oil, soy, and rapeseed could be worse even than driving with normal petrol and diesel. Unfortunately it does that job only partly, but more on that below.

So what's in the proposal?

A 5% cap on biofuels from food crops

This is welcome. For the first time the EC is recognising that there is a conflict between putting food in stomachs and burning food in cars. But it still represents a further increase in biofuel use from current levels. We are still talking about more than 30 billion litres of biofuels. The amount of land needed to meet this demand could otherwise feed more than 200 million people for a year.

The definition does not include non-food crops that have significant ILUC emissions, e.g. jatropha; one of the main crops implicated in land grabs for biofuels in Africa.

Double and quadruple counting

Employing some 'creative accounting' for carbon biofuels from municipal waste, and agricultural, fisheries and forestry residues will be counted four times. Double counting for "other waste" and "non-food ligno-cellulosic" materials.

New 60% minimum threshold for emissions savings with immediate effect

This has been brought forward from 2017. However biofuels from processing plants that are currently in operation will be get an exemption. Since there are enough processing plants built to meet the 10% target, this limit is, in effect, irrelevant on the ground - there is already significant overcapacity of processing plants in Europe.

ILUC factors

Now, this is what the ILUC proposal was actually meant to bring in two years ago: dealing with ILUC is the primary purpose of this reform.

But strangely enough ILUC factors are only included in the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), but not in the most relevant part - the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). This is the directive with the infamous 10% target.

This means that under the RED ILUC emissions will not be accounted for and crops like palm oil could still meet minimum sustainability criteria, despite being worse for the climate than fossil fuel.


The current proposal is inadequate to address ILUC properly and is extremely messy, accounting for ILUC climate emissions in one directive but not in the other.

On the positive side it represents a useful first step in the right direction in this European process that has been stuck for far too long. For the first time the EC has acknowledged that crop-based biofuels are not the way forward for transport policy.

Needless to say the biofuels industry has already started lobby vigorously against the proposal.

Now we need to make sure that the EU Commission and member states do not back down, but rather also include ILUC factors in the RED and use this proposal as a starting point to phase out the burning of food in our cars all together.


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Biofuels are a wide range of fuels which are in some way derived from biomass.

Your idea?