10 Februar 2006

Farm commissioner pushes case for biofuels

By adopting a new EU Biofuels Strategy, the Commission intends to boost the production of fuels such as biodiesel or bioethanol. Green groups fear that the EU’s plans are mainly driven by agricultural interests and lack environmental safeguards. (RELATED: Alternative fuels for transport)

Background:

Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel and Development Commissioner Louis Michel presented the new EU Strategy for Biofuels on 8 February 2006. The strategy tries to relaunch the EU’s drive for more production of biofuels in the member states.

Back in 2003, the Commission adopted a Biofuels Directive setting indicative targets (2% by 2005 and 5.75% by 2010) for the production of fuels produced from biomass feedstocks (mainly from cereals and sugar beet). Under the Energy Tax Directive, the Commission also allowed member states to grant exemptions or reduced tax levels for biofuels.

Recent assessments indicate that member states are far from reaching the biofuels targets in 2005 and that the 2010 target is also unlikely to be achieved. Following up on its December 2005 Biomass Action Plan, the Commission therefore presented the new Biofuels Strategy, which may lead to mandatory targets in the future.

Issues:

The EU’s ambition to replace traditional transport fuels (petrol and diesel) by fuels from biomass has several drivers:

  • it could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport;
  • it would secure energy supply at a time when concerns are growing about oil reserves and energy dependency;
  • after the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, it could provide new opportunities for farmers, as they could grow crops to produce biofuels;
  • it could help developing countries (esp. sugar producers), who could become exporters of biofuels to the EU.

The Biofuels Strategy communication promises further actions to promote the use of biofuels and make sure member states take more action to reach the 2010 target of 5.75% market share. It proposes seven “policy axes” with specific measures that might be proposed in the future. Here are some of the main measures suggested for the future:

  • a 2006 revision of the Biofuels Directive might include mandatory biofuel targets for the member states;
  • second-generation biofuels (e.g. from wood) will be promoted;
  • biofuel use might count towards CO2 emission reduction targets for the car sector;
  • “appropriate environmental standards” to ensure the sustainability of biofuel feedstock cultivation in and outside the EU to be developed;
  • an ad hoc group might be set up to consider the production of biomass and biofuels in national rural development programmes;
  • a forestry action plan to be developed in 2006 could include special measures for the production of material for second-generation biofuels;
  • for trade a special nomenclature code for biofuels to be developed;
  • a biofuel assistance package for developing countries;
  • more research into the ‘bio-refinery’ concept and further development of an industry-led “biofuel technology platform”.

Positions:

Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said that, with high oil prices, “there has never been a better moment to push the case for biofuels”. She also underlined the opportunities for the farming sector: “Raw materials for biofuel production also provide a potential new outlet for Europe’s farmers, who have been freed by CAP reform to become true entrepreneurs.”

Development Commissioner Louis Michel stressed the potential export possibilities for developing countries, especially those now affected by the sugar reform. “The EU will help them maximise this opportunity with support for knowledge transfer and development of their market potential,” said Michel.

Latest & next steps:

  • The Spring European Council on 23-24 March is expected to discuss the creation of an EU common energy policy. The Commission had an orientation debate on this issue on 8 February.
  • The Commission will present a possible revision of the Biofuels Directive later in 2006. The revision might include mandatory national targets for the production of biofuels.

Links

EU official documents

Source: EurActiv.com Feb. 10, 2006.

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