EU Acknowledges Potential Shortcomings of Biofuels, Pushes For Global Trade and Sustainable Development
The European Commission is holding a two-day International Conference on Biofuels in Brussels today and tomorrow. The by-invitation only conference, convened by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy, aims to launch a discussion about developing an international approach that would reap the benefits of biofuels, while ensuring sustainable development and avoiding the creation of new risks.
The conference aims to tackle four key issues: the development of international trade in biofuels; the environment and biofuels; developing countries and biofuels; and current and future research prospects.
In her opening remarks, Ferrero-Waldner noted that biofuels offer important potential advantages for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, while creating new jobs, opening up new markets for agricultural productional, and supporting international development goals. But, she said:
...we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the potential drawbacks. We need to analyse them—and avoid them... Poorly managed production can increase rather than decrease greenhouse gas emissions. We know about the negative effects on soil protection, water management, bio-diversity, air protection and the world’s forests. Clearly, production must be compatible with our overall environmental objectives.—Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner
José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, echoed the benefits of biofuels, noting that “they are one of the few practical ways—alongside more efficient vehicles and hybrids—to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emission in transport.”
The EU has introduced targets of 20% renewables in the energy mix and 10% biofuels in the vehicle fuel mix by 2020.
The EU is determined to ensure that biofuels are developed in ways that protect our planet – not in ways that create new risks. Our aim must be to develop an EU biofuels policy which meets our objectives on security of supply and climate change, while ensuring sustainable development. What we must not do is pursue a policy which simply shifts environmental problems from one sector to another, or from one continent to another.
We are all aware that—in some cases—biofuels can be produced in ways that do not deliver greenhouse gas savings. Equally—again, in some cases—biofuels can be produced in ways which cause environmental problems in terms of soil protection, water management, biodiversity, air protection, and the world's forests.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it is possible to manage biofuel development in ways that reap the potential benefits, without engendering new problems.—EC President José Manuel Barroso
Barroso said that the EC will give a high priority to research into second-generation biofuels, industrial biotechnology, and biorefineries, noting that “A comprehensive research, development and deployment strategy will be necessary to develop a new generation of biofuels with better yields, better commercial viability and better environmental performance.”
Andris Piebalgs, the EC’s Energy Commissioner re-emphasized the focus on second-generation biofuels, saying that “we must aim at the earliest possible entry into the market of second-generation biofuels.”
Piebalgs said that the EC will incorporate its biofuel measures, alongside other measures needed to push the share of renewable energy up to 20%, in a single directive that will then go to the European Council and Parliament for consideration.
In addition to the legal backing for the 10% biofuels target, the directive will contain a sustainability scheme, the details of which are still being worked out, Piebalgs said.
The initial ideas are to:
Set minimum sustainability standards for biofuels;
Only biofuels that meet these standards will count towards the 10% target; and
Only these biofuels will be eligible for tax exemptions; only they will count towards biofuel obligations.
(This approach mirrors that being considered by the UK to encourage sustainable biofuels. Earlier post.)
The rules will apply equally to domestically produced biofuels and to imports.
Piebalgs said that an increase in global trade in biofuels and in biofuel feedstocks is important.
Now, as far as the EU is concerned, I should point out that we could—if we had to—fulfil our 10% target for 2020 entirely through domestically produced biofuels—notably, by using set-aside agricultural land and by reducing the rate at which arable land is being abandoned in the EU. This approach would imply only a small increase in agricultural commodity prices—a matter of a few percentage points.
However, even if this approach is technically possible, it is not the one that we want to follow. We think that this purely domestic sourcing of biofuels is neither likely—given current trade rules, and the increased trade liberalization we hope to see in future—nor desirable. Instead, we aim at a balanced approach under which domestically produced biofuels and imports will both contribute to meeting the EU’s growing needs.—Commissioner Andris Piebalgs
Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner, said that
Europe should be open to accepting that we will import a large part of our biofuel resources. Even if it theoretically is possible, it is unlikely that our 10% target for biofuels in the EU's energy mix could be met without wider sourcing from imports.
We should certainly not contemplate favouring EU production of biofuels with a weak carbon performance if we can import cheaper, cleaner, biofuels. Resource nationalism doesn’t serve us particularly well in other areas of energy policy—biofuels are no different.—Commissioner Peter Mandelson