We receive and publish with pleasure this comment by James Cogan related to the land use impacts of biofuels comsumption in Europe. James is a technology, industry and policy analyst collaborating with PNO Innovation in Brussels and with a number of public and private organisations with stakes in the future of biofuels and transport energy. We are delighted to promote the debate.
On March 10 2016 the European Commission was obliged to release an essential report on the land use impacts of biofuels consumption in Europe as determined by the Commission’s own policy on the matter. The Commission has had the report since the Summer of 2015. The report goes a long way to answering the question of how much better are biofuels for the environment than continued use of fossil fuels. In recent years some parts of the Commission have been sharply critical of conventional biofuels yet unable to produce evidence as to why. Reaching a fact-based consensus on the matter is essential for transport decarbonisation for 2030.
So what are the implications of the report findings for EU and member state transport energy planners who urgently require robust and practical guidance?
- The target for 1st generation ethanol (for petrol blends) should be increased greatly over the current 7% as these fuels offer huge greenhouse gas savings over fossil fuels even after ILUC (land use change) is factored in. Likewise for 2nd generation fuel from crop residues which are shown to be the same as 1st generation maize and beet ethanol. There should be no limits for 2nd generation fuel from perennials which actually result in greenhouse gas absorption. An ever increasing sub-target for ethanol should be considered. Bioethanol and biodiesel should not be lumped together as ethanol is much better than biodiesel.
- Palm oil must be banned (and not just in biodiesel, but in food and cosmetics too). Soybean imports should be excluded from the mix.
- Rape and sunflower biodiesel have questionable GHG profiles (though this partially relates to a supposed increase in palm oil consumption).
- Crop residues biofuels are not as good as hoped but are as good as conventional maize and beet ethanol.
- Wheat ethanol is not as good as previously expected because of the assumption on foregone sequestration, though this does not take from its positive contribution to the wider class of EU bioethanol fuel.
- If deforestation and peat land drainage could be prevented by direct measures, ILUC for all biofuel pathways would virtually disappear.
Commission policy has been chaotic, with the original 2009 Renewables Energy Directive being reopened and then amended arbitrarily before the ink was even dry. The implications above are of immense importance. Current policy suppresses measures that could greatly contribute to climate mitigation and does too little to inhibit those biofuels that are actually worse than fossil oil. These implications were knowable and known before this report was reluctantly released by the Commission under legal pressure from industry.
The fact that the report was withheld in a period of intense consultation for the 2030 climate and energy goals is an illustration of the willingness of some EU offices to defend indefensible policy to the detriment of Europe’s citizens and to the detriment of the climate.
The time has come for the Commission to unequivocally come out in support of ethanol fuel and get to work on really solving the transport decarbonisation challenge. Similar biases and fact-free thinking should be eliminated from all bioeconomy direction setting and policy making.