EU to review damaging biofuels target

The BBC report

The BBC reports that Europe’s Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimashas admitted that the EU did not foresee the problems raised by its policy to get 10% of Europe’s road fuels from plants.

Recent reports have warned of rising food prices and rainforest destruction from increased biofuel production. The EU has promised new guidelines to ensure that its target is not damaging.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said it would be better to miss the target than achieve it by harming the poor or damaging the environment.

Reports have warned that some biofuels barely cut emissions at all – and others can lead to rainforest destruction, drive up food prices, or prompt rich firms to drive poor people off their land to convert it to fuel crops.

”We have to have criteria for sustainability, including social and environmental issues, because there are some benefits from biofuels.”

He said the EU would introduce a certification scheme for biofuels and promised a clampdown on biodiesel from palm oil which is leading to forest destruction in Indonesia.


The IHT report

James Kanter reports in the International Herald Tribune that in a sign of shifting attitudes toward biofuels, European Union officials are proposing to ban imports of certain fuel crops whose production could do more harm than good in fighting climate change, according to a draft law seen Monday.

The proposals, to be unveiled next week, are aimed at enhancing the environmental credentials of biofuels like biodiesel or ethanol to counter concerns that European drivers are playing a role in destroying wetlands, forests and grasslands in areas like Southeast Asia or Latin America each time they fill up their tanks.

The commission would require that biofuels used in Europe should deliver “a minimum level of greenhouse gas savings.” It also emphasizes that areas like rainforests and lands with high levels of biodiversity should not be converted to growing biofuels.

Zainuddin Hassan, the manager in Europe for the Malaysian Palm Oil Council in Brussels said, “The Malaysian government is very concerned about the EU scheme for sustainability of biofuels”. The measures “should not be a trade barrier to the palm oil industry and it should comply with the WTO rules as well,” he said, referring to the World Trade Organization.

Last week scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute warned that biofuels production could result in environmental destruction, pollution and damage to human health.

The Smithsonian cited a Swiss study showing that fuels made from U.S. corn, Brazilian soy and Malaysian palm oil may even be worse overall than fossil fuels. The best alternatives, according to the Swiss study, include biofuels from residual products, also known as second generation, like recycled cooking oil and ethanol from grass or wood.

The article by Kanter explains the issues well; a highly recommended read.

This entry was posted in Biodiversity, Biofuels, EU, Indonesia, Politics & Policy initiatives, Renewables, Sustainablity and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to EU to review damaging biofuels target

  1. Davide says:

    Thanks for your comments on the article “Food or Fuel”. As you said “There are politicians and businessmen who understand the dilemma, at least in the EU”. I think this is partially true because – at least in my opinion – most people (and policy makers too..) understand the dilemma very well but they don’t have the courage ,or the moral strength, to push for a serious debate about biofuels.

  2. matt says:

    Hi Davide

    I’m wondering why they don’t have that ‘courage ,or the moral strength’. What are they afraid of?

    We as a society are now desperate to find ways of appearing at least to reduce our environmental impact whilst keeping our economic privileges. This approach is of course farcical. First generation biofuels, as we know, fit this farce very well.

  3. earthpal says:

    It’s becoming clearer that biofuels have a limited potential and are in fact largely detrimental to social/environmental justice. A false hope indeed. Our leaders need to face the reality.

  4. the Grit says:

    Hi earthpal,

    Actually, biofuels have a great deal of potential, the technology just hasn’t reached it yet. The problems we are seeing currently are the result of Government pandering, causing a rush into using the technology before it’s ready. You have to remember that hiding under the term “biofuels” is the ancient process of fermentation and distillation aimed at producing alcohol. The keys to getting large quantities of this marvelous chemical without affecting food production are to find suitable crops that will grow on marginal land, weeds in other words, and to improve the yeast used in the fermentation process so that they can produce higher alcohol levels before perishing in their own waste. Yeast, by the way, as part of their life cycle convert sugar into alcohol, but they also die when the level of alcohol in their environment exceeds a certain point. As a by product of this conversion process they release CO2, which is why yeast bread rises. This is also why it’s necessary to use distillation, that being the process of heating a liquid to a temperature where one of its constituent parts vaporises but not the others, and condensing the vapor into a more pure product, to generate alcohol based “biofuels” of sufficient purity to burn in an engine. Obviously, if the initial alcohol content of the fermentation process is larger, less energy will need to be expended in the distillation process, boosting the net energy gain. Complicated, yes. Not happening yet, yes. However, with the right yeast and the right crop, alcohol could easily make up a significant part of our fuel in the near future.

    Not to mention that my home made wine could acquire a hefty kick!

    the Grit

  5. matt says:

    Good summary of the issues Grit. Yes it is true that certain non food crops could help our vehicles move from A to B with less guilt. A certain grass seems to be the great hope at the moment and as you say, it would be grown on marginal land.

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