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EU Commission formally proposes biofuels limits

The European Commission today formally proposed limiting the use of biofuels from arable crops and imposing consideration of the impact of those fuels on land use patterns, but Copa-Cogeca, the largest European farm and co-op group slammed the proposal.

The proposal needs the approval of the European Council of governments and the European Parliament, and Copa-Cogeca called on the individual government leaders and the parliament to insist on changes to the policy before approving it.

The proposal to limit the use of biofuels made from arable crops such as sugar, starch and vegetable oils to 5 percent in 2020 and to eliminate them completely after 2020 and to impose the "indirect land use change" or "ILAC" standard to judge whether the fuels should be considered an environmental improvement was released in Brussels.

The European Union biofuels program has come under criticism from environmental and development groups that claim it raises the cost of food.

Connie Hedegaard

Connie Hedegaard
“We must invest in biofuels that achieve real emission cuts and do not compete with food,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in a statement. “We are of course not closing down first-generation biofuels, but we are sending a clear signal that future increases in biofuels must come from advanced biofuels. Everything else will be unsustainable.”

“This proposal will give new incentives for best- performing biofuels,” EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said today. “In the future, biofuels will be saving more substantial greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our fuel import bill.”

John Sauven

John Sauven
But Greenpeace said the proposal to cap production of crops for biofuels did not go far enough, Bloomberg reported.

“Fuel suppliers can still use harmful biofuels like palm oil from Indonesia and claim credit for cutting emissions,” John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said by e-mail, Bloomberg reported.

Today’s proposal doesn’t affect the ability of the EU’s 27 member states to provide financial incentives for biofuels, but says that after 2020, biofuels should only qualify for aid if they lead to “substantial” savings of greenhouse gases that scientists blame for global warming and are not produced from crops used for food and feed, Bloomberg added.

In an echo of U.S. farm groups recent defense of the Renewable Fuel Standards, Copa-Cogeca said the proposal threatens feed supplies for animals, employment and green growth in rural areas across the European Union.

Pekka Pesonen

Pekka Pesonen
“It is an unacceptable breach of confidence that the EU Commission has decided a U turn in its biofuel policy," Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said in a news release. "Some member states have already made plans for 2020 which exceed the 5 percent limit. This proposal will put a brutal end to the development of the sector in many member states and cause a slowdown in the EU biofuel industry and employment in rural areas.”

“The limitation on biofuels from arable crops also puts at risk the EU improvement in self sufficiency on proteins to feed animals as only part of the oilseed, cereals and sugar beet crop used to produce biofuels are actually converted into energy,” Pesonen continued.

“The majority stays in the feed sector," he said. "The rapeseed areas today currently reach 6.7 hectares in the EU-27 and risks falling to 2 million hectares or less as a result of this. The profitability of the EU sugar sector is also partly down to substantial investments in the bio-ethanol industry and this limit risks causing a restructurization of the sector. European biofuels industry investments amount to 14 billion Euros and are estimated to provide direct jobs to 100,000 European citizens. The proposals would also have a severe impact on farmers income and prevent them from having additional income sources.”

He added: “The total abandonment of the biofuels industry from 2021 also totally ignores the contribution of the biofuels sector to the improvement in the EU’s trade balance, vis a vis soya cakes from the Americas , the growth in productivity of agriculture production factors in the EU as well as the objectives of the reform of the EU sugar regime in 2006.”

He continued: “Furthermore, it is totally unacceptable to use the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report which has not been peer reviewed as a basis to introduce ILUC factors in the fuel suppliers reporting to member states. The model used for the report is not suitable for precisely estimating the extent of land use change and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, due to critical data errors and important methodical problems.”