A first debate in the European Parliament’s environment committee on a European Commission proposal to limit the type of biofuel that can be used to meet European Union renewable energy targets has revealed a sharp divide among MEPs.
The Commission proposed in October last year to revise European Union renewable energy legislation so that biofuel derived from food crops or causing indirect land-use change (ILUC) can count for at most half of the 10% quota for renewable transport fuel. The remaining half would be supplied by new ‘second generation’ biofuels that do not cause ILUC or come from food crops.
There is concern that the directive’s fuel target is driving up the use of biofuel made from food crops, increasing food prices, and causing intensification of agriculture that is actually generating more greenhouse gas emissions than using biofuel saves.
But biofuel companies have complained that the original EU policy spurred them to make investments which could now be destroyed by a reversal of policy.
French liberal MEP Corrinne Lepage, who is guiding the legislation through the Parliament, has proposed that the restrictions should be tighter – applying the ILUC factors earlier and also making them count toward the 6% greenhouse gas reduction obligation set under the separate fuel quality directive.
Under the Commission proposal, ILUC impacts would be monitored only under the fuel quality directive, but would not affect how the target is met. Lepage’s proposal would compensate for the potential profits lost to makers of first-generation biofuel by making a portion of biofuel equivalent to 2010 levels exempt from applying ILUC limits.
Also, biodiesel, which makes up the majority of conventional biofuel, would not have to comply until 2020. “We have to take into account investments that have already been made,” she told the environment committee on Monday (6 May). She said that the existing methodology for calculating ILUC is strong enough to use in the legislation.
But other MEPs disagreed on this point. “ILUC factors are not an exact science. It’s a phenomenon we cannot observe directly and we can’t measure,” said German centre-right MEP Christa Klass. “It’s based on assumptions.”
A first discussion on the issue by environment ministers in March showed that many member states are also sceptical about the methodology. The Netherlands, Denmark and the UK were the only member states to express support for the proposal.
A Commission official told the committee that – even with the limitations in the modelling – the EU is meant to follow the precautionary principle, which says the EU should act in the face of possible danger, even when there may not be conclusive proof.
Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout pointed out that the EU’s austerity policy was also based on uncertain modelling. “If you don’t want to base your policies on [uncertain] models then we would need to change a lot of policies.”
The environment committee will vote on the proposal on 10 July, followed by a vote by the full Parliament in November. The Council is expected to agree its position in the autumn.
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