EU Panel Votes to Cut Goal for Biofuels From Crops
Author: Pete Harrison
The move could curb the growth of a market coveted by biofuels exporters such as Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as European farming nations.
The executive European Commission has proposed that 10 percent of all road transport fuel come from renewable sources by 2020, without specifying how much of that should be biofuels, renewable electricity or hydrogen.
Environmentalists attacked the policy, charging that biofuels produced from grains and oil seeds contribute to rising food prices and deforestation.
The European Parliament's influential industry committee endorsed the overall 10 percent target but voted that at least 40 percent of it be achieved with electricity or hydrogen from renewable sources, or second-generation biofuels from waste.
That would leave just 6 percent coming from traditional biofuels made from grains and other food stocks.
"While the maintenance of a binding target for biofuels is a bitter pill to swallow, the committee has at least strengthened the safeguards against the damaging impact of agri-fuels in this directive," said Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes who led negotiations in the committee.
The committee's decision will likely serve as parliament's position in negotiations with the 27 EU member states later this year or in early 2009 to fine-tune the laws.
The panel approved a mid-term goal of 5 percent of road transport fuel from renewable sources by 2015, of which a fifth should be alternatives to biofuels from food crops.
"That mid-term target could be difficult," said Simo Honkanen of Neste Oil's renewable fuels division. "I think biofuels from wood waste will come, but it will take years and it's still unclear how much they can contribute."
The panel stipulated that biofuels must achieve a CO2 reduction of 45 percent compared to petrol or diesel, rising to 60 percent in 2015 -- levels much more ambitious than those being mulled by EU member states.
It also approved a major review by 2014 to assess how the 2020 target should be composed in light of technological advances, and whether it was attainable at all.
"Using crops to feed cars... could lead to irreversible loss of wildlife and misery for millions of people in the south," said Friends of the Earth campaigner Adrian Bebb.
But biofuels exporters like Malaysia have warned that while the EU is right to guard against damage to tropical ecosystems, it should be wary of discriminating or breaking global free trade rules.
The committee vote was more important than usual because France, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, is pressing for a quick enactment of the environment legislation.
Paris wants to go to international climate talks in Poznan, Poland in December with proof that it is serious about battling climate change and has passed laws to do so.
An EU survey of 30,000 citizens on Thursday showed nearly two thirds of them considered climate change was one of the world's most pressing problems.
The panel also endorsed the EU's overall target of getting 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020, such as wind, waves, tidal currents and the sun.
And it voted to include shipping from 2013 in the EU's flagship Emissions Trading Scheme -- a system that makes industry pay for permits to produce CO2.
(Additional reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris; Editing by Paul Taylor and Michael Roddy)