By Kayleigh Lewis - 15th July 2013
In a world where almost 900 million people go hungry to bed every night, the support for biofuels should be phased out
Marc Olivier Herman
The result of the vote shows that MEPs have understood that biofuels cause hunger, deforestation and carbon emissions
The vote today calling for a 5.5 per cent limit puts an abrupt end to the development of the sector in many countries, threatening 220,000 jobs mostly in EU rural areas
We should stop using taxpayers money in order to incentivise policies that result in more greenhouse gas emissions
With climate change already putting pressure on the global food supply and food prices, the EU should not be further exacerbating these trends by promoting the use of agricultural land for fuel
The European parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee has controversially adopted proposals to limit the amount of biofuels that can be used in transport fuels.
The decision also included new rules that will take into consideration the impact of producing biofuel crops.
Greens/EFA deputy Bas Eickhout commented on the vote, saying, "Feeding crops into cars has fuelled rising food prices and rainforest destruction. While we think that the vote to put a 5.5 per cent cap on the use of land-based biofuels like food crops in the overall fuel mix is a step in the right direction, we should in fact be shunning the use of food crops for fuel altogether."
The Dutch deputy welcomed the inclusion of the indirect land use change (ILUC) factor from 2020 onwards, saying, "This will help steer future investments in a sustainable direction."
MEPs have long been calling for the ILUC factor to be taken into account as many believe that the use of farm land to produce biofuel crops, requiring more land to be made available for food crops, can lead to deforestation.
Some also believe that the process of deforestation can in itself increase greenhouse gas emissions which could, in turn, cancel out the benefits of using biofuels in the first place.
"Even though conservative MEPs continue to bury their heads in the sand, a majority of the environment committee have voted to guarantee that biofuels placed on the EU market are better for the environment than conventional oil-based fuel," added Eickhout.
"It is highly questionable why, at a time of severe economic crisis, the EU should continue subsidising biofuels to the tune of €10bn, without putting these climate safeguards in place," he argued.
Kriton Arsenis, parliament's S&D group spokesman on the issue, said, "We should stop using taxpayers' money in order to incentivise policies that result in more greenhouse gas emissions. To that end we need the implementation of binding indirect land-use change factors in order to distinguish between environmentally friendly and harmful biofuels."
He also said that, "Biofuel production from food crops contributes to food price volatility and demand for biofuels in the EU restricts some population groups' access to food. We don't want people in poverty to suffer food scarcity."
GUE/NGL MEP Sabine Wils praised the parliament for backing a "positive and sustainable proposal" on ILUC "in spite of strong opposition from some industrial lobby groups".
Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of farming and agriculture lobby group Copa-Cogeca, was less impressed with the outcome. He said, "Farmers and industry have invested huge amounts of money in the sector, based on commitments made by the EU institutions to ensure that 10 per cent of transport fuels come from renewable energy sources by 2020.
"The vote today by the environment committee is totally unacceptable and leads to more fossil fuel consumption and more CO2 emissions in transport by 2020. Some operators have already made plans for 2020 which exceed the 5.5 per cent limit. The vote today calling for a 5.5 per cent limit puts an abrupt end to the development of the sector in many countries, threatening 220,000 jobs mostly in EU rural areas."
He continued, "It also threatens animal feed supplies as biofuel production provides major benefits for the animal feed sector as the rapeseed grains can be used simultaneously for both biodiesel production and in animal feed. The majority of the grain stays in the feed sector.
"Moreover, Copa-Cogeca, who represent farmers and their cooperatives, reject the reports which were used as a basis to introduce ILUC factors in the fuel suppliers reporting to member states. The model used for the report is not transparent and not suitable for precisely estimating the extent of land use change and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, due to critical data errors and important methodical problems," he concluded.
Rob Vierhout, secretary-general of ePURE, also expressed his concern saying, "We fear with that with this curb, Europe risks throwing the baby out with the bath water"
"With the right framework renewable ethanol made in Europe makes an important contribution to the transition to low carbon transport and responsible economic growth.
"This home-grown sustainable and renewable source of energy can benefit Europeans and the European economy whilst reducing transport emissions by up to 90 per cent compared to fossil fuels," he explained.
Reaction from environmental NGOs was considerably more positive, with Sebastien Risso from Greenpeace EU saying, "MEPs have made great strides to safeguard against the environmental impacts of biofuels, but they have missed an opportunity to reduce the consumption of biofuels that compete with food.
"When MEPs come together for a final vote in the autumn, they should take a look at the evidence and turn away from harmful biofuels."
Friends of the Earth Europe campaigner Robbie Blake said, "The result of the vote shows that MEPs have understood that biofuels cause hunger, deforestation and carbon emissions," although he added, "But they have not voted for strong enough action to remove these threats."
He continued, "This vote would put a necessary pause on the expansion of biofuels, but we need to end biofuels competing with food production by phasing out this misguided use of food for fuel altogether."
Faustine Defossez, of the European environmental bureau, also commented, saying, "This committee vote shows the ambition needed to correct EU biofuels policy. Even if vested interests nuanced the result, the outcome of today's vote can be seen as a long leap in the right direction," although she admitted, "The road ahead is still long".
While Nusa Urbancic, from campaign group Transport and Environment, said, "It is encouraging to see that MEPs in charge of protecting our environment finally addressed the elephant in the room by fully accounting for indirect emissions in the EU biofuels policy. This vote will pave the way for truly sustainable transport fuels, which actually reduce emissions."
However, Oxfam's Marc Olivier Herman was less enthusiastic. He said, "Today's vote falls short of what is needed to put the brakes on growing European demand for biofuels, allowing an expensive and failed policy to go on fuelling hunger and land grabs in poor countries. In a world where almost 900 million people go hungry to bed every night, the support for biofuels should be phased out."
The report will be put to a plenary vote in Strasbourg in September.