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EU biofuels policy could create “major environmental pressure”

EU biofuels policy does not adequately protect the environment against negative consequences, according to a study reviewing the indirect land use change (ILUC) impact of the EU’s planned increase in biofuels use up to 2020.

Based on newly released national plans, ILUC could lead to substantial land conversion and, as a consequence, additional greenhouse gas emissions beyond those that would arise from the continued fossil fuel use, the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) report says.

David Baldock, Executive Director IEEP, says: “Promoting the use of biofuels with no consideration of indirect land use change (ILUC) has the potential actually to increase the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is vital that this situation is rectified and ILUC impacts are urgently addressed within EU law. It is essential to remember that the renewable energy Directive, which is driving EU biofuel use, was adopted to help combat climate change.”

Under EU law all Member States are required to derive 10% of their transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020.

Plans from national governments setting out how they will reach this target are now becoming available, and they confirm that conventional biofuels (derived from crops such as wheat, rapeseed and sugar cane) will be the primary technology used in delivery.

Land needed for biofuels crops

The report, Anticipated Indirect Land Use Change Associated with Expanded Use of Biofuels and Bioliquids in the EU – An Analysis of the National Renewable Energy Action Plans, concludes that between 4.1 and 6.9 million hectares of additional land will need to be cropped due to the increasing conventional biofuels demand, set out in national plans.

IEEP estimates that this would lead to additional annual emissions of between 27 and 56 million tonnes of CO2 between 2011 and 2020, associated with land conversion.


Advanced biofuels missing from equation

It had been hoped that the 10% EU target would be used as an opportunity to adopt new solutions such as use of advanced biofuels, electric vehicles and would drive investment in energy efficiency.

However, the report shows that conventional biofuels will dominate up to 2020, accounting for up to 8.8% of transport fuel use or 24.3m tonnes of oil equivalent.

Catherine Bowyer, lead author, IEEP, says: “This analysis underlines the need to include ILUC in the EU criteria for assessing whether biofuels should count towards the delivery of the renewable energy Directive’s targets. The heavy reliance by Member States on conventional biofuel use in 2020 and the limited use of more advanced or energy efficient transport solutions are also a major concern; action by Member States to promote these would put Europe on a more sustainable pathway.”