French Liberal MEP Corinne Lepage, who steered the negotiations in Parliament, said MEPs had voted to set “a reasonable cap on first generation biofuels,” at 6% of overall transport fuel consumption.
“This is an important signal that support should be focused on advanced biofuels from 2020,” Lepage said. "I regret however that the Parliament did not give a negotiation mandate that would have allowed the file to be concluded without further delay in order to give industry certainty regarding its investments", she added.
Speaking for the industry, the European Biodiesel Board (EBB) underlined that Parliament had “de facto” refused to give a mandate for negotiations with member states over the proposed biofuels legislation, effectively postponing a decision until after the 2014 European elections.
In particular, the EBB stressed the Parliament’s doubts over proposals to measure land displacement caused by biofuels production – so-called Indirect Land Use Change, or ILUC.
“The rather indecisive results seen today show that doubt persists in using a rather young discipline for policy making,” says Raffaello Garofalo EBB secretary general, adding that including ILUC factors, even for reporting, would convey the wrong signal to citizens.
“European regulators should be proud of the commitment of the EU biodiesel industry to promote a greener economy, foster agriculture and support industrial jobs. European biodiesel should set an example for higher standards, not be punished based on inconclusive science,” said Garofalo, adding: “Europe cannot afford to threaten nearly 220,000 jobs based on simplistic ILUC assumptions.”
Turning to advanced biofuels, the EBB said Parliament had chosen “a schizophrenic proposal maintaining present double-counting support but excluding Used Cooking Oil and Animal Fats from the 2.5% specific target allocated to advanced biofuels.”
“Waste and residues based biodiesel provide up to 95% greenhouse gas reduction compared to fossil fuels and it is not justified not to count it among advanced biofuels. Should the European Union be truly committed to reduce CO2 in transport, reliance on effective solution such as biodiesel from waste and residues should be fostered and biodiesel from waste and residues should be included in the advanced sub-target,” concluded Garofalo.
The Greens/EFA group in Parliament welcomed the “tentative steps” taken by MEPs to “address flaws” in the EU’s biofuels policy but said problems remained regarding displacement of food production.
Green climate spokesperson Bas Eickhout said: “Ensuring that the emissions resulting from indirect land use change are accounted for under the fuel quality directive from 2020 onwards will help ensure the EU is not promoting the use of biofuels that clearly have a negative climate impact. This would help steer investors and the fuel industry away from bad biofuels in the medium-term.
“However, regrettably, a narrow majority voted against starting negotiations with the Council to conclude this legislation. This will further delay the urgently needed action to tackle climate-damaging biofuels.”
Eickhout also regretted that lawmakers also failed to include emissions resulting from indirect land use change in the calculation of greenhouse gas savings limit for biofuels under the EU's renewables directive.” This contradictory vote ignores the overwhelming evidence that Europe's biofuel consumption is leading to the destruction of tropical rainforests, with major greenhouse gas implications. There will consequently be no guarantee that land-based biofuels perform better than conventional oil-based fuels in the near future.”
"It is also seriously disappointing that Parliament voted to allow a 6% share of land-based biofuels like food crops in the overall fuel mix. Feeding crops into cars has fuelled rising food prices and rainforest destruction and the EU should not be further exacerbating these trends by promoting the use of agricultural land for fuel. We should be shunning the use of food crops for fuel altogether but this 6% 'cap' is clearly too high. It is highly questionable why the EU should continue promoting biofuels without putting essential climate safeguards in place."
Commenting on the vote, Nuša Urbancic, clean fuels manager for Transport & Environment, said: “Today’s vote calls into question the willingness of the European Parliament to fix the failed EU biofuels policy. Until an agreement is reached, it is uncertain for investors and the environment what the future of biofuels will be. What is certain though is that Europeans will have to keep paying for another seven years for biofuels that pollute more than the fossil fuels they are supposed to replace.”
Commenting on the Parliament’s vote, Imke Lübbeke, renewable energy senior policy officer at WWF European Policy Office said: “While it is positive that MEPs have drawn a line in the sand and introduced a limit for biofuels, EU legislation needs to do more. Parliament wants to delay accounting for indirect land use change from biofuels – a significant problem – until 2020, and even only in one of the two relevant pieces of legislation, leaving a major gap.
“Their action today does not give the market the right incentives to provide cleaner biofuels for the European transport sector. It is now up to the EU Member States to act responsibly, and improve the Parliament’s position, helping Europe on its transition to a more sustainable energy future.”
Rob Vierhout, the secretary general of the European ethanol industry group ePure, said: “It is disappointing to see that the European Parliament has decided to significantly reduce the market for conventional biofuels in Europe. At a time when we need to boost our economy it is difficult to see why MEPs agree to curtail jobs and investment in a sector that helps Europe to grow the production of clean and sustainable fuels."
Greenpeace was more radical, saying in a statement that MEPs had “supported the increased use of environmentally damaging biofuels, while at the same time calling on the EU to account for the destructive effects of these fuels on food production and greenhouse gas emissions.”
“Today’s incoherent vote was clearly the result of horse-trading. The Parliament wants the EU to drive on both sides of the road: to recognise that biofuels made from food crops are destructive to the environment, but to continue supporting them politically and financially,” Greenpeace EU forests policy director Sebastien Risso.
Greenpeace called on EU countries to “stop and reverse” the expansion of harmful biofuels. “The full carbon footprint of biofuels must be accounted for and public support and subsidies for environmentally and socially damaging biofuels must be phased out. Priority must be given to real solutions for greener transport, including innovative energy efficiency technologies to reduce energy consumption in transport, green mobility in cities, and cars and trains which run on renewable electricity.”
Global anti-poverty group Oxfam congratulated MEPs for having avoided “the worst case scenario”. But it said Parliament was “still guilty of neglecting the needs of both the people and the planet”, saying a 6% cap on biofuels is “far above current levels of consumption”.
“Today’s vote also introduces a new 7.5% binding target for the share of bioethanol in petrol; this would mean that by 2020 Europeans will have to buy 2.5 times more grain based biofuels than they currently do,” said Marc Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s EU biofuels expert.
“In their efforts to appease the biofuels industry and agricultural lobbyists, MEPs have failed in their duty to represent the best interests of their electorate and the one in eight people going to bed hungry each night. As a result, millions will continue to be susceptible to volatile food prices, deforestation and further land-grabbing. EU governments must now pick up their slack.”