Biofuels: EU Parliament Ctte Backs Cap on Food-Based Production

18 July 2013

The European Parliament's environment committee has approved draft legal measures that would cap the share of food-based biofuel used in vehicles at 5.5 percent, ahead of a plenary vote in September.

The committee's vote last Thursday is the latest attempt to ensure that support for biofuels does not indirectly enhance greenhouse gas emissions, through deforestation resulting from the extension of farmland. (See Bridges Weekly, 19 September 2012).

"Ignoring this problem risks undermining the EU's credibility in the fight against climate change and legitimacy of financial support to the industry," said Corinne Lepage, the parliamentarian who drafted the report.

First generation biofuels - sugar, cereals, or oilseeds - were originally set to be limited at five percent of total energy consumption by 2020, under plans first tabled by the European Commission. As well as raising this ceiling to 5.5 percent, the draft measures approved by the environment committee would also require "advanced" biofuels - from sources such as seaweed or certain waste products - to account for no less than two percent of consumption by the same date.

The report prompted mixed reactions from biofuel industry representatives, green groups, and development agencies. A statement from European biofuel producers, farmers, and commodity groups said the move would "decimate" the biofuel industry.

Meanwhile, Brazilian sugarcane association UNICA welcomed the push towards higher environmental standards, while also cautioning against applying an arbitrary cap on all food-based biofuels that would ignore "important differences between conventional biofuels' environmental performance." Geraldine Kutas, head of international affairs at the group, warned that this could be "vulnerable to being de facto discriminatory and breaching World Trade Organization rules."

The South American country is the world's second largest producer of ethanol.

Nusa Urbancic, clean fuels manager at the Brussels-based group Transport and Environment, also supported the move. "This vote will pave the way for truly sustainable transport fuels, which actually reduce emissions," said Urbancic.

Marc Olivier Herman, Oxfam's EU biofuels expert, suggested that support to biofuels should be phased out, arguing that food production for energy has proven to fuel "hunger and land grabs in poor countries." He called on MEPs to resist pressure to weaken current proposals before the September plenary vote.

ICTSD reporting; "EU lawmakers deal a blow to crop-based biofuels," REUTERS, 11 July 2013; "Brazil's UNICA welcomes parts of European Parliament biofuel vote, cautions about threat to WTO compliance," THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11 July 2013.

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