European Parliament committee agrees on traditional biofuels cap

On April 14, the European Parliament's environment committee (ENVI) moved a step closer to an agreement on plans to cap the production of traditional biofuels and accelerate the shift to alternative sources, such as certain types of waste and residues and new sources such as seaweed, with the environment committee's vote backing a deal struck by legislators. The plan aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions caused by the growing use of farm land for biofuel crops.

The committee endorsed the outcome of the negotiations with the Latvian Presidency by 51 votes to 12, with 1 abstention.

Current legislation requires EU member states to ensure that renewable energy accounts for at least 10% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. The compromise approved states that first-generation biofuels (from crops grown on agricultural land) should account for up to 7% of final energy consumption in transport by 2020.

Fuel suppliers will report the estimated level of emissions caused by freeing up more land to grow food crops needed when land has been switched to biofuel crop production, known as indirect land-use change (ILUC) to EU countries and the commission.

EU member states will have to set a national target, no later than 18 months after the directive enters into force, for advanced biofuels, e.g. sourced from certain types of waste and residues and new sources such as seaweed. The draft legislation sets an indicative target of 0.5% for the share of energy to be produced from advanced biofuels as a percentage of the energy derived from renewable sources in all forms of transport by 2020. Member states may set a lower target on certain grounds, such as a limited potential for production, technical or climatic constraints, or the existence of national policies that already allocate commensurate funding to incentives for energy efficiency and electric transport.

ePURE, the association representing the European renewable ethanol industry, comments that while the compromise is a disappointing result it 'may go some way to restoring some much needed policy certainty for the biofuels industry'.

Noting the positive aspects of the compromise, including the proposed 7% cap on conventional biofuels, the recognition of low-ILUC biofuels, and potential future promotion of sustainable biofuels beyond 2020, ePURE believes that 'the process to close this file has fundamentally lost sight of its overall objective: to promote the best-performing biofuels'. The association also notes that, since several issues have been left to member state discretion, there is also a risk of uneven implementation of the amended legislation at national level.

'The absence of binding targets for advanced biofuels and renewable energy (ethanol) use in petrol, both key measures to differentiate better biofuels, and both supported previously by the European Parliament on several occasions, undermines the core objectives of this reform', says Robert Wright, secretary general of ePURE. With the non-inclusion of these items, ePURE is calling upon EU policy makers to address these gaps as part of the envisaged review of the Renewable Energy Directive by end 2017, as well as during the definition of the post-2020 energy and climate framework.

'While today's vote is a first step to providing some policy certainty to the industry, the result does not sufficiently incentivise the use of biofuels with better GHG performance. The draft legislation is also inconsistent with the EU's commitment to promote innovation and investment and protect sustainable jobs and economic growth,' concludes Wright.

Also commenting on the vote, Nina Skorupska, CEO of the Renewable Energy Association (REA), stressed the importance of implementing the final agreement as quickly as possible:

'Advanced fuels can play a key role in meeting the EU's carbon reduction targets through reducing ever rising carbon emissions in the transport sector. But if it is to make an impact, it is now time to give biofuels businesses the support they need and ensure that the next generation of investors have the confidence that the policy will not be overturned once again.'

Norbert Schindler, member of the Bundestag and chairman of the German Bioethanol Industry Association (BDBe), calls the policy reform 'the result of a somewhat irrational debate on biofuels'.

'On a positive note,' Schindler adds, 'the EU did not bend to unjustified criticism about biofuels from some non-governmental organisations. They oppose biofuels for ideological reasons and call for the mixture of biofuels with fossil petrol and diesel as an integral part of the energy reform to be rescinded. A subsequent increase in petroleum consumption again can then be used as an argument to ban driving to the extent possible. For example, the goal is to reduce car traffic by 50%. This will mean nothing other than cars only for the wealthy and bicycles for the common man.'

Schindler emphasises: 'The CO2 emissions of cars must be lowered. But the answer is not to ban driving cars. All available means including biofuels, electric vehicles and efficiency improvements must be used. Germany, with its ongoing obligation to lower CO2 emissions of fuels, is on the right path. This path also has to be enforced in the other EU member states.'

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