European Environment Agency Scientific Committee Calls for Suspension of Europe’s 10% Biofuels Target
The European Environment Agency (EEA) Scientific Committee has called for the suspension of the EU target of 10% biofuels use in transportation by 2020, and is recommending a new, comprehensive scientific study on the environmental risks and benefits of biofuels.
The Scientific Committee assists the management board and executive director of the EEA by providing scientific advice and delivering professional opinions on any scientific matter in the areas of work undertaken by the Agency. The committee comprises 20 independent scientists from 15 EEA member countries, covering a variety of environmental fields.
Faced with ongoing growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, the EU introduced mandatory biofuel quotas in the expectation that in the medium-term the growth in transport emissions can be reduced and that the emissions can be subsequently stabilized.
In 2003, the Biofuels Directive set the objective of replacing 2% of vehicle fuel supply by 2005 and 5.75% by 2010. The 2005 target was not met and it seems unlikely that the 2010 target can be reached, according to the EEA. Nevertheless in 2007 the EU target for biofuels was increased to 10% by 2020, under the conditions of production being sustainable and second generation technologies being commercially available.
The EEA Scientific Committee summarized its concerns as follows:
Biofuel production based on first generation technologies does not optimally use biomass resources with regard to fossil energy saving and to greenhouse gas reduction. Technologies for direct heat and electricity generation should be preferred because they are more economically competitive and more environmentally effective than biofuel production for vehicles.
Biomass utilization implies combustion of very valuable and finite resources. Biomass utilization must necessarily go hand in hand with energy efficiency improvements. This is not yet the case for the majority of applications in the automotive and residential sectors.
The EEA has estimated the amount of available arable land for bioenergy production without harming the environment in the EU (EEA Report No 7/2006). In the view of the EEA Scientific Committee the land required to meet the 10 % target exceeds this available land area even if a considerable contribution of second generation fuels is assumed. The consequences of the intensification of biofuel production are thus increasing pressures on soil, water and biodiversity.
The 10 % target will require large amounts of additional imports of biofuels. The accelerated destruction of rain forests due to increasing biofuel production can already be witnessed in some developing countries. Sustainable production outside Europe is difficult to achieve and to monitor.
The overambitious 10% biofuel target is an experiment, whose unintended effects are difficult to predict and difficult to control. Therefore the Scientific Committee recommends suspending the 10% goal; carrying out a new, comprehensive scientific study on the environmental risks and benefits of biofuels; and setting a new and more moderate long-term target, if sustainability cannot be guaranteed.—EEA Scientific Committee
The EEA was established by a 1990 EC regulation which came into effect in 1993. The mission of the agency is to provide sound, independent information on the environment to those involved in developing, adopting, implementing and evaluating environmental policy, and also the general public.