EU biofuels policy: A disappointing deal

Monday, July 7, 2014 - 12:42

On 13 June, EU Energy Ministers finally agreed to reform the EU biofuels policy, capping food-based biofuels at seven percent of all energy in the transport sector by 2020. The European Commission will report every year on Indirect Land Use Changes triggered by biofuels on the basis of data reported by member states.

This reform is a small step forward since it is estimated that without a cap, around 8.6% of all energy in the transport sector would be made of biofuels. But it unfortunately leaves room for further expansion of biofuels for all member states who are below 7% at the moment. ActionAid had called for a much more ambitious reform and is dismayed that the process of reaching even this modest deal has been so difficult and lengthy.

In a worrying move, several member states issued a joint statement on the same day, saying they would oppose any lower cap when the text will come back to the newly elected European parliament for a second reading, probably the last quarter of 2014.

EU policy is causing food price volatility and land grabs outside of Europe, while delivering little or no reduction in carbon emissions. The EU Renewable Energy Directive promotes the use of biofuels. This has led to food crops being diverted to produce fuel for cars, helping to drive up global food prices and leading to an increase in large land deals outside of Europe that often result in poor farmers losing their land and ability to produce food.

The policy has also proved very expensive for European taxpayers, costing €6 billion in subsidies every year to support biofuels. This money could be used to develop alternative sources of renewable energy that are not food-based. With this reform, the EU is hopefully indicating that food-based biofuels are unlikely to be part of its future climate and energy policies.

At the EU level, the ball is now in the court of the Parliament, which will have to examine the text in a second reading. This will be a test case to measure the level of ambition of the newly-elected Parliament. In parallel, mobilisation will continue to ensure national implementation plans are more ambitious than the EU member states’ consensus.