The European Parliament is debating the future of biofuels

European Parliament, Strasbourg
European Parliament, Strasbourg

New proposals which aim to limit the percentage of biofuels that can be used in transport fuels continue to divide opinion among European policymakers and stakeholders.

The fuel quality directive and renewable energy directive proposal, adopted by parliament’s environment committee, include new rules that take into consideration the impacts of producing biofuel crops.

Many members of Parliament have long been calling for the indirect land use change (ILUC) factor to be taken into account when measuring the value of these energy sources as many believe that using farm land to produce biofuels, and therefore requiring more land to be made available for food crops, can lead to deforestation. Some also believe that the process of deforestation can in itself increase greenhouse gas emissions which could, in turn, cancel out the benefits of using biofuels in the first place.

But first things first: the Parliament’s environment (Envi) committee voted on July 11 for a 5.5% cap on food crops and crops used just for energy purposes in the EU’s 2020 transport fuel mix (on Il Bioeconomista you can read on this issue the interview with Michael Carus, managing director of the nova-Institut, published last September 2). This came off the back of studies showing that some biofuels had a stronger greenhouse gas effect than fossil fuels due to a phenomenon known as indirect land-use change (ILUC).

The Envi report includes proposals for ILUC to enter EU legislation for the first time, under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) in 2020. The RED amendment would require EU countries to make up their renewable energy targets using fuels which were proven to have a low ILUC impact within two or three years, a “quantitative” approach. Under the FQD proposal, fuels would need to be show that they offer a minimum 60% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to fossil fuels from 2018.

Another report of the Parliament’s industry committee includes just a 6.5% cap on biofuels and no ILUC proposal. Instead, it offers a higher sub-target for advanced biofuels with low net greenhouse gas emissions, such as waste residues or fuels produced from algae. These two reports, and a third proposed by the Parliament’s Liberal ALDE group, will be voted on due to a regulatory mechanism known as “enhanced cooperation” (a procedure where a minimum of nine EU member states are allowed to establish advanced integration or cooperation in an area within EU structures but without the other members being involved).

At a biofuels debate in the Parliament last week, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the second largest EU political group, declared their support for the Envi report but with the inclusion, from 2018, of “grandfathering” ILUC factors into the two directives, a proposal close to the ALDE report. The “grandfathering” proposal should protect first generation biofuels producers from the policy change ending public support for their industry.

Tomorrow we will know our future. The European Parliament will hold a plenary vote on revisiting EU biofuel policies in Strasbourg.

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