The EU has struck a deal to satisfy 10% of its transport fuel needs from renewable sources, including biofuels, hydrogen and green electricity, as part of ongoing negotiations on its energy and climate package. The move represents a step back from the original aim of sourcing 10% of the bloc's transport fuels from biofuels alone.
On 23 January 2008, the European Commission put forward proposals aimed at boosting the share of biofuels in transport fuel to 10% by 2020, amid growing concern over rising oil prices, energy security and climate change. But subsequent fears of rising food prices and biodiversity loss as land is diverted to biofuel production, as well as questionable CO2 reduction values, led to calls for the reduction or outright rejection of the target.
The European Parliament's industry and energy committee, despite confirming the 10% target by 2020, asked for at least 40% of this goal to be met by "non-food and feed-competing" second-generation biofuels or by cars running on green electricity and hydrogen. MEPs also backed stricter "sustainability criteria", including an obligation for biofuels to offer at least 45% carbon emission savings compared to fossil fuels (EurActiv 12/09/08).
A compromise deal on the contribution of biofuels to the EU's overall renewable energy consumption target, which foresees sourcing 20% of the bloc's energy needs from renewables by 2020, was reached late in the night of 3 December during behind-closed-doors negotiations between representatives of the three main EU institutions.
The final compromise obliges the bloc to ensure that biofuels offer at least 35% carbon emission savings compared to fossil fuels when the law enters into force — a figure that would rise to 45% by 2013 and 50% by 2017. As of 2017, the target will be raised to 60%. Earlier, the Parliament had asked for an immediate 45% target to be established (EurActiv 12/09/08).
Sub-targets for first and second-generation biofuels, demanded by MEPs but stongly opposed by member states, were dropped. Instead, the overall 10% biofuels target now applies not only to biofuels, but also to all renewable energy used in transport, such as electric vehicles powered by renewable sources, which will now contribute to achieving the target.
Until the very end, the European Parliament and EU countries remained split over the so-called biofuels sustainability criteria, and in particular whether to include the impact of so-called 'indirect land use' in the formula to calculate biofuels' overall CO2 performance. Such indirect factors include increased CO2 emissions caused by deforestation and higher food prices as a result of shifting land from food to biofuel production.
In a compromise deal, a legally-binding reference to indirect land use was dropped. Instead, the European Commission was asked to come forward with proposals to limit indirect land use caused by the swtich to biofuel production.
The European Parliament's draftsman and negotiator, Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes, said the Parliament had succeeded in strengthening the so-called 'sustainability criteria' by ensuring that indirect land use must also be taken into account later on, as the European Commission will have to come forward with proposals in 2010 to limit indirect land use change.
"We have also succeeded in strengthening the criteria designed to safeguard against the damaging impacts of biofuels. The 2020 target now applies to all renewable energy used in transport, so electric vehicles (generated from renewable sources), as well as trains, can be counted. Together with non-food/feed biofuels, this would account for over four-tenths of the 10% target. This means the contribution of food/feed agrofuels to the 10% target is substantially reduced," Turmes stated.
"The EU has agreed on the conditions for a massive increase in biofuel sales in Europe but has failed to guarantee that any greenhouse gas savings will be achieved as a result. The fundamental issue of indirect land use change (ILUC) was postponed with no legally-binding guarantee of it being accounted for in the future," deplored Transport & Environment (T&E), an NGO.
The biofuels deal angered many environmental organisations who argued it came at the expense of the world's poor, biodiversity and efforts to fight climate change to prevail the specific interests of farmers and the biofuels industry. Without the indirect land use sustainability criteria, "the EU risks supporting massive production of biofuels, inside and outside Europe, that does not contribute at all to fighting climate change," the NGOs said.
8 Dec. 2008: Council expected to reach political agreement on the draft EU biofuels policy.
16-17 Dec. 2008: First-reading debate and vote on the dossier in Parliament plenary.
European Commission: Biofuels for Transport
European Commission: An EU Strategy for Biofuels
Group of the Greens / European Free Alliance: EU renewables legislation being held ransom by Italy (4 December 2008) [FR]
Transport & Environment (T&E): EU fails to guarantee emissions savings from biofuels (4 December 2008)
EEB, BirdLife and Friends of the Earth: First cars, now renewables - EU governments failing climate tests - Deal on renewables held up by French mismanagement and undermined by promotion of (4 December 2008)