(01/09/08) Biofuel sustainability deal in sight

The French EU Presidency will this week attempt to clinch a deal on sustainability criteria for biofuels in order to ensure that the Union's goal of increasing their share to 10% of transport fuels by 2020 does not provoke major negative environmental side-effects.

Highlighting the "strong convergences" that were achieved among national experts from the EU's 27 countries at a technical meeting on 25 July, Paris hopes to garner an agreement on biofuel sustainability criteria during a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday (3 September).

In accordance with earlier EurActiv reports, the deal would centre on a two-phased approach, under which only biofuels delivering life-cycle CO2 savings of at least 35% compared to fossil fuels would count towards the 10% target. This figure would then be scaled up to 50% as of 2017 – subject to an in-depth policy review in 2014.

According to diplomatic sources, national experts also agree on the need to monitor the indirect effects of changes of land use, including deforestation (indirectly increasing CO2 output) and food price hikes caused as land traditionally used for food production is shifted to biofuel production.

On the other hand, producers cultivating biofuel crops on 'degraded land' could be entitled to pollute more, receiving CO2 'bonuses' of up to 29 grammes – although no consensus has been reached on this figure as yet.

Sources say the agreement would also require biofuel production to respect binding environmental criteria as regards the protection of biodiversity and areas with high carbon stocks, such as wetland or forest areas.

Other environmental and social criteria, such as water, soil and air protection, as well as the non-use of child labour and respect for human rights, would not be binding but would be taken into account by making it compulsory for biofuel producers to provide information on these points. In the longer term, this would be officialised under a biofuel certification scheme.

The Commission would report every two years on the indirect effects of biofuels in terms of land use and food prices, and would be entitled to take corrective action.

However, in the meantime MEPs appear likely to reject the ambitious 10% biofuels target. In a debate tonight (1 September), Parliament's Industry and Energy Committee is set to say that such criteria are insufficient. A reportPdf external , prepared by Green MEP Claude Turmes, highlights "overwhelming evidence to drop the mandatory 10% target for fuels from renewables".

What's more, a cross-party and cross-national compromise supporting a target of just 4% by 2015, "out of which at least 20% is met by the use of electricity or hydrogen from renewable sources, biogas or transport fuels from ligno-cellulosic biomass and algae," was backed by Parliament's Environment Committee in July, to the anger of the European Commission, which appears intent on its 10% goal.

MEPs are also likely to back stricter sustainability criteria, including targets of "at least 55 or 60% GHG savings".


EU official documents

European Parliament: Draft report on the proposal for a Directive the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sourcesPdf external (13 May 2008)
Commission: Biofuels pagesexternal

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