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EU Parliament votes to limit biofuels, account for ILUC emissions

24 February 2015

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted to limit at 6% the use of land-based biofuels that can count toward the 10% renewable energy target in transport by 2020. The Committee members also approved accounting of ILUC (indirect land use change) emissions from biofuels under the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), with a review clause to include ILUC accounting in all pieces of legislation after 2020.

This vote is intended to stop the growing consumption of biofuels. According to the current science, many biofuels—depending on the production pathway—can increase greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional diesel and petrol, rather than reduce them, especially if ILUC factors are taken into account. ILUC emissions happen when land is converted to grow crops for fuel.

Once perceived a silver bullet solution to reduce GHG emissions from transportation, biofuels had been promoted by earlier EU legislation. The EU regulates the use of biofuels through two laws with a 2020 time horizon. The renewable energy directive (RED) sets a 10% target for renewable energy in transport. The fuel quality directive (FQD) requires a 6% reduction in the carbon footprint from transport fuels. Both laws include rules for calculating direct carbon emissions from biofuels, but the calculation does not account for ILUC emissions.

The first proposal to stop the growth of biofuels was released in 2012, but the regulatory process has been slow and difficult, as various groups of interest have been opposing the changes to protect their investment in biofuels that was triggered by the existing biofuel legislation.

The amended proposal also widens the scope of the 6% biofuel cap to not only cover food-based biofuels, but also energy crops, i.e., inedible crops that still compete for land with food crops. This decision identifies land use, not the type of crop, as the key environmental challenge of biofuels. It would mean that EU Member States could not subsidize or mandate this type of biofuel after 2020.

EU Member States spent €6 billion in 2011 in support of the biofuels industry, said the Transport & Environment group. This public support was necessary to sustain the 4.5% market share biofuels had in 2011—below the 6% freeze voted for in the Environment Committee.

Source: EU Parliament | T&E