11 Mai 2007

Commission seeks advice on biofuels amid growing scepticism

A wide public consultation to be held until 4 June addresses the question of how to achieve a 10% target for biofuels use in transport by 2020 while ensuring environmental sustainability.

At the March 2007 European Council, EU leaders committed to setting a binding minimum target of 10% biofuels-use in transport by 2020, with the condition that their production is sustainable and that second-generation biofuels become commercially viable. These are obtained from ligno-cellulosic or “woody” sources (such as straw, timber, woodchips or manure) but these fibre-rich materials can only be converted into liquid biofuels through the use of advanced technical processes, many of which are still under development (see: EurActiv 24/10/06).

A 10% target for biofuels use in transport would represent almost a doubling of the 5.75%-by-2010 target set in the 2003 Biofuels Directive. Environmental NGOs have voiced strong opposition to the move, arguing that as long as second-generation technologies are not widely in use, increased biofuels production will lead to biodiversity loss and food shortages, especially in developing countries such as Indonesia, where the destruction of rainforests for biofuels production is increasing. In addition, many observers argue that the energy-intensive nature of biofuels production involves a non-negligible level of greenhouse-gas emissions.

These concerns are reflected in a recent joint study for the Dutch government carried out by a group of NGOs, research institutes and private companies. The report concludes that biofuels production must not come “at the expense of environmental damage” and that it should “lead to less emissions of greenhouses gases than fossil fuels”.

In light of these issues, Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs has stated that the advantages of biofuels “should not be offset by environmental damage through inappropriate land use or outdated production processes”. Piebalgs hopes that the present consultation will help the Commission design “a simple and practical sustainability scheme” for biofuels production. To this end, the consultation addresses the following four questions to stakeholders:

  • How should a biofuel sustainability system be designed?
  • How should overall effects on land use be monitored?
  • How should the use of second-generation biofuels be encouraged?
  • What further action is needed to make it possible to achieve a 10% biofuel share?

(Cf. news of 2006-11-27.)

Source: Euractiv, 2007-05-02.

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