By ALESSANDRO TORELLO
BRUSSELS -- The European Union on Wednesday presented a
radical shift in its biofuels policy, proposing to limit the
amount of transport fuels from food crops that would count
toward a 2020 renewable energy target.
The European Commission is proposing to limit the share of
energy from food crop-based biofuels to no more than 5% of the
total energy used in the transport sector in 2020. That
represents roughly the current amount of food crop-based
biofuels used in EU transport fuels.
The use of biofuels has become increasingly controversial in
the EU, as questions have emerged about their real contribution
in fighting climate change and about the impact they have in
lifting global food prices. Biofuels are produced from crops
such as rapeseed, palm oil or sugar cane.
The commission originally targeted meeting 10% of the
transport sector's needs from renewable energy over that
period, and biofuels based on food crops were expected to make
up the bulk of it.
But after years of scientific studies, political bargaining
and heavy lobbying, the European Commission proposed new rules
aimed at discouraging the use of biofuels derived from food
crops, while at the same time boosting so-called
second-generation biofuels, which don't compete with food
needs, even though they are still in development.
"We should not continue to enlarge a problem that is already
big enough," said Connie Hedegaard, commissioner for climate
If policy makers understand that a policy is going in the
wrong direction, "then of course you should think twice," she
said. "In Europe biofuels have a role to play in the future,
but they truly have to be sustainable."
In its proposal, the commission also said that after 2020
food crop-based biofuels that don't lead to "substantial
greenhouse gas savings" shouldn't receive subsidies.
The text is likely to change before it can become law, because
the European Parliament and EU governments will now discuss it
and will have to agree on a common wording.
"Today's news is still a negative for biofuel producers
[because it is] reducing the outlook for agricultural commodity
demand in the EU biofuels industry," said Erin Fitzpatrick,
grains and oilseeds analyst at Rabobank in London. The rules
aren't likely to be implemented until 2015, adding further
uncertainty to investments and planning strategies, she
While the commission isn't proposing an all-out ban on any
type of biofuel, nor an overall cap to their use, the plan
marks a U-turn in EU policy on the issue.
In the past, the EU has encouraged the use of biofuels as a
way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector.
That has prompted hundreds of millions of euros in total
investment in biofuel production capacity that the industry
says are threatened by Wednesday's proposal.
The plan "would destroy the biofuels industries and related
sectors such as crushing and sugar facilities," said a joint statement
by the biofuel industry, signed by a group of associations,
including the European Biodiesel Board and Copa-Cogeca, the
European farmers' lobby.
The proposal "will jeopardize investments, jobs in rural areas
and prevent development of advanced biofuels," they said.
The commission also attracted criticism from environmental
organizations. The ultimate aim of Wednesday's proposal was to
prevent the EU biofuels policy from harming the climate, but
some nongovernmental organizations say the new policy isn't
solving the climate-change problem.
"While the EC proposal limits today's bad practices, it does
not fundamentally steer future bioenergy in a sustainable
direction," said Nusa Urbancic, program manager for fuels at
Transport and Environment, an organization that promotes
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