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Euro Environmental Organizations Warn on Biofuels

Three European environmental organizations are warning that EU policies promoting biofuels may cause more environmental damage than the conventional fuels they are designed to replace if important environmental safeguards are not put in place.

The three organizations—the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), BirdLife International and Transport and Environment (T&E)—issued their call to the European Commission at the conference, A sustainable path for biofuels in the EU, organized by EEB. The EU energy ministers tomorrow begin debating the EU Biomass Action Plan, published in December. (Earlier post.)

Without introducing sustainability safeguards, the groups state, reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be negligible, biodiversity will be harmed, and ultimately the public could reject biofuels if they are not seen to be a credible environmental alternative to fossil fuels.

According to an EU-sponsored study, meeting the EU’s target of replacing 5.75% of fossil fuels with biofuels would consume 14-27% of EU agricultural land. To meet the biodiesel target, 192% of 2005 EU oilseed production would be needed, or 14% of the forecast world production in 2012. As a result, meeting the 5.75% biofuels target will force a greater reliance on imports.

Climate change and biodiversity loss are among our most pressing challenges. We must urgently reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. But we must tackle climate change and biodiversity loss in tandem. Biofuels are only part of the solution. Unless we produce biofuels sustainably, we’ll end up with more energy-intensive and environmentally damaging farming practices and hasten the degradation of our ecosystems.

—John Hontelez, EEB Secretary General

The three environmental organizations want only biofuels that are produced sustainably and which offer substantive greenhouse gas benefits to be eligible for public support and count towards public targets, such as the EU target of 5.75%.



Well said. Wonder what they mean by sustainable. No fossil fuel based fertilizers? No coal used to distill ethanol? How about pesticides. It's fine to talk about using up the countryside for feedstock, but then what happens to wildlife? Wonder what the ER equation would be if one used organic feedstock? I would think Europse is in a worse position than we are as far as land availability.

Jack Rosebro

"Wonder what they mean by sustainable."

I couldn't find a definition on their websites, but they are probably using the Brundtland definition:

"...development that satisfies the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs..."

That's the most popular definition of sustainability used in the EU. It was first published in a 1987 report entitled Our Common Future, published by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).

The report came to be known as the Brundtland Report in reference to the Commission’s chairwoman, Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was the prime minister of Norway at that time.

An Engineer

This proves, again, that biofuel-form-food makes no sense. You'd think it was a no-brainer.

Europe, like the US and most countries, is awash in suitable feedstock for biofuel. A feedstock that would require no additional land, no increase in fertlizer, pesticide or any other resource. A feedstock that you don't have to pay for, but rather can be paid for collecting. I am talking of waste, of course. But seriously, how much waste is out there?

According to USDA and DOE (see, the US can replace a third of its (transportation?) oil use by collecting 1.3 billion tons a year of agricultural and forest biomass, without affecting other products. I am not saying that number is not optimistic, there are some assumptions that make you wonder. But it would suggest that the EU's target of 5.75% is very achievable and can be done without plowing under the remaining natural land.


^ But why aren't they doing it now? Is it the case that collecting and processing the waste streams is more expensive? If so, why? Is it that the waste streams are diverse, heterogeneous, and not centrally located? Some other reason? What can be done to reduce the costs of processing the waste streams?


those green fantasts are on the same level like the conservative governments in USA and Australia. Nothing has to change, because change brings unsecurity.

CO2? Never mind. It will balance. Let's go for the Saudi Oil!

An Engineer

But why aren't they doing it now?
Some reasons:
1. US leadership, uhm make that US politicians are beholden to BIG money. Three of the biggest are Big Oil, Big US Auto and Big Agriculture.
2. Big Oil would have us believe we can drill our way back to lower oil prices. "Just let us loose on ANWR!"
3. Big US Auto thinks that the only way to compete with Asia Auto is to make more and bigger SUVs and trucks. So they lobby (successfully sofar, thank you very much) for tax incentives for huge vehicles and laughable mpg standards.
4. Big Agriculture is behind the whole food-to-fuel campaign. "More subsidies, please! BURP!"
5. Related to above, current legislation defines overly narrow what fuels qualify for subsidies. So promising inventions are automatically excluded, unless the inventor can afford a lobbyist.

Is it the case that collecting and processing the waste streams is more expensive? If so, why? Is it that the waste streams are diverse, heterogeneous, and not centrally located?
No - waste is already collected and disposed of at centrally located landfills - no additional transportation required. Heterogeneous nature may present a challenge, although a store of waste for a long enough period should even out short term variations. It is also possible to take recycleables, such as paper, which has to be sorted anyway.

Some other reason?
Unfortunately, some environmentalists are part of the problem here. They fear that a good waste-to-fuel system would encourage people to waste more. I believe that fear is overblown. In a future of expensive energy, the idividual would have to foot the bill for wasteful behaviour. Not wasting in the first place would be much cheaper than wasting and then recovering energy from waste.

What can be done to reduce the costs of processing the waste streams?
A good Energy Policy would recognize the importance of this. Unfortunately, current legislation is anything but, see last year's No-lobbyist-left-behind Energy Bill. Not spending all the fund's we don't have on HYDROGEN, would leave money for solutions that might actually work.

A big problem in today's plastic society is perception. People get excited about CLEAN technology, even if most of the perceived clean technology has limited application. Looking for CLEAN solutions in DIRTY waste is just not COOL enough. The bigger benefit and considerable environmental advantages are somehow lost on people...


Hi, I found this interesting debunk of the critique, at:


An Engineer

Did you just lose your way in cyberspace? What exactly does your posting debunk? Or are you just trying to put us all on a guilt-trip?

FYI: The third world's problem is not exploitation by the first world. The third world's problem is third world leadership, or lack thereof. Look at what Mugabe is doing to Zimbabwe. Who exactly is causing the problems in Sudan and Somalia? The local leadership.

For example, a New York Times contributor recently made the argument that Africa needs sweatshops to reduce its poverty!,7Q3Bu@ya4b@.Q20 Imagine that: "Please bring us a sweatshop, because we cannot build our economy on decent working standards." That gives you an idea how bad the leadership is over there.

And NO, these comments are not racist, nor are they the result of ignorance and being comfortably separated from the third world's hardships. These same sentiments are coming from relatives of Africa's ruling elite - see To quote: The average African is poorer (now) than during the age of colonialism!

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