The European Commission (EC) seems ready to accept that setting a general target for the use of biofuels in transport is not going to help reduce greenhouse gases.
Its long-awaited proposal on ‘indirect land-use change’ caused by growing biofuel crops was leaked last month.
Although it is still subject to change, the draft says the EC believes biofuels should only be subsidised after 2020 “if they lead to substantial greenhouse gas savings and are not produced from crops used for food and feed”.
Brussels has been under pressure to recognise that when crops are grown to make biofuels, new land has to be found to replace the lost food and feed production, which in turn leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Transport and Environment, a leading non-governmental organisation on green transport, says the EC now recognises that indirect land-use change undermines the case for certain biofuels, with studies showing that greenhouse gases from producing many biofuels might be higher than those from fossil fuels, especially for biodiesel.
Biofuels have also been questioned due to their impact on rising food prices. Last month, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation called for incentives for biofuels to be cut amid record-high grain prices because of low rainfall in the USA.
However, it said it was focusing on using land not suitable for growing crops and, as such, its range of new biofuels did not pose a problem where food or feed production was concerned.
Since 2009, the European Union (EU) has wanted to have 10% of all transport fuels made up of renewable fuels by 2020, with biofuels expected to make up a large share of this target.
But according to the leaked report, biofuels from food crops will be limited to 5% of total EU transport fuels; they already make up 4.5%.
The EC is keen to promote the use of non-land-derived biofuels, such as fuel made from household waste, recycled cooking oils and algae. These might still qualify for subsidises.
A number of fleets, including Commercial Group and the Environment Agency, already use a blend of recycled chip oil to fuel their diesel vehicles.
The Renewable Energy Association (REA) says the UK biofuels industry stands to be devastated by the draft proposals.
It claims the proposals shift the goalposts for the industry so dramatically that millions of pounds of investment could be wasted, including in the most advanced UK businesses.
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