European Parliament has opportunity to set EU biofuels policy on a more sustainable trajectory

11 September 2013 – Today’s MEPs will look to agree the European Parliament’s approach to address indirect land use change (ILUC) impacts from the production and consumption of biofuels in the EU.

After years of delay MEPs should use the opportunity provided by Today’s vote to set out a clear path for the decarbonisation of the EU transport sector and move biofuels policy to a more sustainable footing.

The current EU biofuels policy, in particular the use of land-based feedstocks, is having unintended negative environmental, social and economic consequences that must be addressed. The evidence base to support this conclusion is well established with a number of new reports (1,2) lending support in recent weeks.

MEPs bombarded with material on the relatively technical and complex details of the ILUC debate could be forgiven for approaching a vote with some caution. However, even zealous defenders of the status quo generally accept that ILUC is a real phenomenon, while questioning its scale. Indeed, it is difficult to be precise, but in our view the evidence base underlining the Commission’s proposal for legislation on ILUC remains credible and is a reasonable base for action. Inaction will have negative impacts.

A revised EU biofuels policy should leave little scope for land-based biofuels and the negative impacts they cause with support phased out overtime. The ILUC issue needs to be addressed in this reform and the EP has the opportunity to show leadership in this area by strengthening the European Commission’s original proposal.

The existing policy framework should be modified to address some of the key issues of sustainability, such as reducing the contribution of land-based biofuels to the overall energy mix and incentivising more sustainable fuels. There exists significant scope for more sustainable biofuels based on agricultural and forestry residues and some forms of municipal waste. These resources could be mobilised within the 2020 timeframe to help meet EU targets, if the right incentives are put in place relatively quickly.

Other beneficial changes to the policy would include: addressing indirect land use change impacts directly through the Renewable Energy Directive and the Fuel Quality Directive, with the introduction of binding ILUC factors; and putting in place appropriate environmental safeguards to prevent any perverse environmental outcomes from promoting new fuels.
EU biofuels policy needs to be adjusted now in order to stimulate investment in more sustainable approaches that will provide greater confidence to the public and the biofuels industry whilst improving the environmental credentials of the policy as a whole. This will be a challenge for decision makers, industry and environmental interests alike but ultimately there is a common interest in setting EU biofuels policy on a more sustainable trajectory.

Notes to editors:

  • The Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) is a not-for-profit research organisation specialising in EU environmental policy with offices in London and Brussels. www.ieep.eu
  • Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) from EU biofuel production is the process whereby existing crop and livestock production is displaced to make way for the production of biofuel feedstocks. Assuming a constant or increasing demand for crop and livestock products, these are then produced elsewhere and lead to land use changes outside of what is currently agricultural land, such as forests. 
  • Feedstock refers to the raw materials used to produce biofuels.
  • The demand for biofuels is driven largely by the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) that requires Member States to produce 10% of their transport energy from renewable sources by 2020. Most Member States have opted to use primarily conventional or land-based biofuels to meet this target.