Monday, September 16, 2013

[biofuelwatch] EU votes on biofuels, but what does the result mean?


EU votes on biofuels, but what does the result mean?

European legislation is never straight forward, but seldom has the outcome of a vote confused analysts on all sides as much as that on biofuels legislation on September 11.

The Parliament's plenary was voting on the reform of the EU's controversial biofuel policy.  Rather than leading to significant reductions in greenhouse gases from road transport, the policy in its current form has led to global food price rises, deforestation and, ironically, increasing emissions.

Before the vote activists handed rapporteur Corinne Lepage 243,998 petitions sent by European citizens calling for an end of food-to-fuel (see photo above).

MEPs voted on over 50 amendments at break-neck speed; some of which were carried or rejected with majorities of less than 10 votes out of 766 MEPs. Contrary to expectations, voting happened largely along traditional party lines, with the conservative block voting to weaken safeguards on biofuels. Only within the ALDE group (the European liberals) voting was more varied between individuals.

The key amendments voted for were:

·         A cap of 6% on the amount of crop-based biofuels that can be used to meet the EU's 10% target for the use of renewable energy in transport. This is higher than the European Commission's proposal of 5% and ignores the demands from civil society to entirely phase out the use of food for fuel.
ActionAid estimates that at 6% enough food will be burnt in Europe's cars to feed more than 200 million people every year

·         Penalty factors (or Indirect Land Use Change factors), which would stop biofuel feedstocks like palm oil that lead to increased emissions through deforestation, were not included under the greenhouse gas accounting system. If these emissions were accounted for biodiesel from crops like soy and palm oil would fall foul of the rule that biofuels have to result in a minimum of 35% emission saving compared to fossil fuels. While, under the proposal, these emissions will be reported on by member states, actual accounting would only be introduced by 2020 and only in the Fuel Quality Directive (one of two pieces of legislation that drive EU biofuel demand), but not in the crucial Renewable Energy Directive.


But then, right at the end, something extraordinary happened: with the very last ballot the plenary decided, with a single vote majority, not to give a mandate to the rapporteur MEP Corinne Lapage to begin negotiations with the Council of Ministers.  As a result the bitter fought compromise will now go back to the drawing board for a second reading in both Parliament and Council.

Once the vote was over observers were left scratching their heads about what the outcome actually meant.

Some commented that the industry largely got what it wanted from the vote while others said it represented an unacceptable policy u-turn for them. On the opposite side supporters of a cautious approach to biofuels argued that the vote sent an important signal to industry that crop-based biofuels were not the way forward. But NGOs, including Friends of the Earth, pointed out that the outcome failed to stop biofuels that are worse for the climate than fossil fuels and it failed to stop the use of food for fuel.

As the day went on a general feeling emerged that the outcome had produced only losers. The inability of the Parliament to agree a clear way forward increases uncertainty and will stall investment in finding more sustainable solutions. While deforestation for palm oil - that currently constitutes 20% of Europe's biodiesel  and keeps rising - will continue to be subsidised under the Renewable Energy Directive.

As the proposal goes into second reading the struggle continues.

Read more about Friends of the Earth's position on biofuels





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

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