23 December 2010

EU will ensure biofuels deliver clear emission savings

© 350jb
© 350jb
Indirect land use change can reduce greenhouse gas emissions savings associated with biofuels, but also identifies a number of uncertainties associated with the available models, according to a report published by the European Commission.

The report summarises the analytical work carried out by the Commission over the last two years, including an overview of the consultation exercises, involving both experts and the general public, that have been conducted on this issue.

The report announces that the Commission will conduct an impact assessment, thereby taking into consideration potential changes to the existing legislation.

If needed, the Commission will recommend to address this issue under a precautionary approach. In addition the Commission will continue to conduct work in this area in order to ensure that policy decisions are based on the best available science and to meet its future reporting obligations on this matter.

"The potential effects of indirect land use need to be properly weighed in our biofuels policy. It is in our interest to investigate this seriously and ensure to have a legislation that avoids negative side effects," said Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

"We have to ensure that the biofuels we promote deliver clear greenhouse gas savings," said Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

"Although we have developed robust sustainability criteria for their production, we must not ignore any unwanted impacts that may be caused globally as a result of the additional demand. Action in the field should follow a precautionary approach."

Policy approaches by summer 2011

The 2009 Renewable Energy and Fuel Quality Directives set targets of a 10 percent share of renewable energy in the transport sector and a 6 percent greenhouse gas reductions for fuels used in the transport sector in 2020. The contribution from biofuels to these targets is expected to be significant.

The Commission will now focus on carrying out a detailed assessment of a shortlist of the potential policy approaches for dealing with this issue, which will be presented no later than July 2011. This will, if appropriate, be accompanied by a legislative proposal for amending the both directives.

Should the forthcoming impact assessment come to the conclusion that legislative action is needed, the Commission will ensure that any future policy decision is based on the best available and most accurate science. The Impact Assessment will consider the following policy options:

* take no action for the time being, while continuing to monitor;
* increase the minimum greenhouse gas saving threshold for biofuels and bioliquids;
* introduce additional sustainability requirements on certain categories of biofuels and bioliquids;
* attribute a quantity of greenhouse gas emissions to biofuels reflecting the estimated indirect land use change impact.

Preventing use of land devoted to agriculture

In order to avoid possible negative side-effects, the Renewable Energy and Fuel Quality Directives impose sustainability criteria that biofuels and bioliquids need to comply with in order to be counted towards the targets.

These criteria include provisions to prevent the conversion of areas of high biodiversity and carbon sinks such as forest and wetlands. They also require minimum greenhouse gas emission savings from biofuels compared to fossil fuels.

However, there is a risk that part of the additional demand for biofuels will be met through an increase in the amount of land devoted to agriculture worldwide.

This could lead to emissions associated with the conversion of land indirectly. Therefore, the Commission is required to review the impact of indirect land use change on greenhouse gas emissions and propose legislative action for minimising that impact if appropriate.

Estimating the greenhouse gas impact due to indirect land use change requires projecting impacts in the future, which is inherently uncertain, since future developments will not necessarily follow trends of the past.

The estimated impact can only be established through modelling. In this context the Commission recognises that a number of deficiencies and uncertainties which could significantly impact on the results remain to be addressed.

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