Sustainability

New cap on crop-based biofuels approved by MEPs

New cap on crop-based biofuels approved by ENVI

A new cap on the use of traditional, crop-based biofuels in Europe became more likely yesterday (24 February) after Members of European Parliament (MEPs) sitting on the European Commission’s Environment Committee (ENVI) approved a draft law designed to galvanise the switch to advanced biofuels.

The new law, first proposed in 2012, would limit the use of ‘first generation’, crop-based biofuels for transport purposes to six per cent by 2020. This would mean that no more than six per cent of the 10 per cent renewable transport fuel target could come from this source.

‘First generation‘ biofuels are those derived from sources like sugar, animal fats and vegetable oil. While their use may bring environmental benefits compared to traditional fossil fuels, according to ENVI, their growth can reduce the growing areas available for food crops, leading to negative environmental impact from deforestation and over-farming – a process known a indirect land use change (ILUC).

This process itself was found by the ENVI to be increasing greenhouse gas emissions – cancelling out the ‘beneficial effect of using biofuels’.

As such, the new biofuel cap aims to reduce competition with food crops and lessen the negative environmental impacts of biofuel use, while boosting the use of advanced, or ‘second generation, biofuels. These are sourced from seaweed or certain types of waste, such as used vegetable oils that are no longer fit for human consumption.

The draft law also includes a target to use at least 1.25 per cent advanced biofuel in transport by 2020, after member states argued that the proposed 2.5 per cent (proposed in 2013) was too high.

Finnish MEP Nils Torvalds welcomed the fact that the draft law was approved by 39 votes to 26 (with four abstentions), commenting: “This has been an enormously challenging file. And at the same time a very interesting one. It’s complicated technically and technologically. I love this kind of political challenge and I hope we will take it to a good result in the trilogues (meetings attended by representatives of the European Parliament, Council and Commission).”

Torvalds has now received a mandate (46 votes in favour, 20 against and two abstentions) to start negotiations with the Latvian Presidency of the Council of Ministers for a possible second reading agreement.

Good, but not good enough

Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth (FOE) welcomed the change to the EU’s current “disastrous biofuels policy” but expressed dissatisfaction with the extent of the reforms.

Kenneth Richter, FEO’s Biofuels Campaigner, said: “The current biofuels policy is destroying forests, sending food prices soaring and may even be causing an increase in climate-changing pollution.

“The UK Government must now make sure that the proposed reforms of EU biofuel legislation are not watered down further in the European Council.”

Richter pointed to the fact that the current use of first generation biofuels across Europe stands at 4.7 per cent, so while the draft law is a step in the right direction, it is not enough to have a lasting effect.

Read more about biofuels and their environmental impact.

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