European Parliament backs 6% cap on land-based biofuels, switchover to advanced biofuels; no mandate
In a vote on draft legislation, the European Parliament has backed a cap on the use of biofuels produced from starch-rich crops, sugars, oil and other crops grown on land and a speedy switchover to new biofuels from alternative sources such as seaweed and waste. The measures aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that result from the turnover of agricultural land to biofuel production.
According to current legislation, member states must ensure that renewable energy accounts for at least 10% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. In the adopted text, MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) say land-based biofuels should not exceed 6% of the final energy consumption in transport by 2020. (The proposal by the European Commission on which the draft legislation was based had suggested an even lower 5% cap.)
Advanced biofuels, sourced from seaweed or certain types of waste, should represent at least 2.5% of energy consumption in transport by 2020, MEPs said.
MEPs also voted to include emissions from indirect land-use change (ILUC) in the fuel quality law. Greenhouse gas emissions that result from the increasing use of agricultural land for biofuel production are addressed by studies of ILUC. Analysis has shown that the resultant increase in emissions can cancel out some of the biofuels’ benefits, when taken into account of the whole life cycle from production to consumption.
I welcome the Parliament vote in favor of correct accounting of greenhouse gas emissions including indirect land use change and in favor of a reasonable cap on first generation biofuels. This is an important signal that support should be focused on advanced biofuels from 2020. Taking indirect land use change into account is important for the integrity of the EU climate change policy.
I regret however that the Parliament did not give a negotiation mandate that would have allowed the file to be concluded without further delay in order to give industry certainty regarding its investments.—MEP Corinne Lepage (ALDE, FR), Rapporteur
Amendments to the draft legislation were approved with 356 votes in favor to 327 against and 14 abstentions. Lepage was two votes short of receiving a mandate to negotiate with member states, which will now seek a common position of their own. If different to Parliament’s first reading text, a second reading will be required.
Commenting on the vote, European environmental NGO Transport & Environment noted that the lack of a mandate creates further uncertainty on the future of biofuels in Europe.
We urge European governments and Parliamentarians to support the full carbon accounting of biofuels in order to fix the failing EU biofuels policy once and for all. Only then can Europe ensure its citizens are not forced to fill up their cars with biofuels that drive deforestation and emissions increases.—Nuša Urbancic, T&E’s clean fuels manager
In response to the vote, UNICA, the Brazilian sugarcane industry association, issued a statement supporting the approval of measures to incentivize the production of more advanced biofuels, including those made from bagasse and straw.
The 2.5% sub-target for promoting the production and consumption of advanced biofuels in transport fuel, as voted by the European Parliament, is a step in the right direction, UNICA said.
“However, it is unfortunate that the Parliament gave into biofuel critics’ pleas to put an arbitrary, 6% cap on the use of all food-based biofuels," said Geraldine Kutas, Head of International Affairs at UNICA. “A cap ignores important differences between conventional biofuels’ environmental performance. It is also vulnerable to being de facto discriminatory and breaching World Trade Organization rules.”
UNICA is hopeful that EU Member States, who will now formally begin to craft their own position on the biofuel dossier, will reject the cap, said Kutas.
Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is classified as an advanced biofuel by the US Environmental Protection Agency and by California Air Resources Board, even when ILUC effects are taken into account.
That classification is a result of the recognition that BSCE does not contribute to deforestation, as it is grown mostly on degraded pasture land and grown almost entirely in the south-central part of Brazil, far away from the Amazon rainforest.
Brazilian sugarcane ethanol achieves among the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emission savings (over 70% relative to fossil fuel alternatives, according to the default values in the EU Renewable Energy Directive, and more than 55% when estimated ILUC emissions are accounted for) of all biofuels produced at scale in the world because of its very moderate indirect impacts and the resource efficiency of its production, UNICA pointed out.