Action plan to boost biofuels and biomass in EU

The European Commission has adopted an ambitious action plan to increase the use of biofuels and biomass in three sectors: heating, electricity and transport.

Andris Piebalgs, Energy Commissioner said: “This plan will reduce Europe’s dependence on imported energy, cut greenhouse gas emissions, protect jobs in rural areas and extend the EU’s technological leadership in these sectors. The measures in favour of transport biofuels in particular are a practical response to the problem of high oil prices.”

The plan contains more than 20 actions, most of which will be implemented from 2006 onwards. For transport, they include “biofuels obligations” akin to the one introduced in the UK in November (see related story).

The plan also includes reviews of how fuel standards could be improved to encourage the use of biomass for transport, heating and electricity generation, and for investment in research, particularly in making liquid fuels out of wood and waste materials, and a campaign to inform farmers and forest owners about energy crops.

The Commission will also work on future EU legislation to encourage the use of renewable energy in heating. It estimates that the plan increase the use of biomass without increasing the intensity of agriculture or affecting food production and forecasts emissions reductions of around 290 million tons CO2 equivalent per year, providing direct employment for 250-300,000 people.

However, a coalition of environmental campaigners has warned that strong environmental safeguards must be put in place to ensure that these measures do not have impacts on the wider environment.

The organisations, including WWF, Greenpeace and the EEB, have warned that certain imported biomass crops have high levels of inputs during their cultivation and transformation phases resulting in high greenhouse emissions, not much lower than fossil fuels.

In addition, in many cases, biomass production can lead to mass rainforest clearance, affecting biodiversity, water and soil, and contributing to climate change, the groups say.

“If managed sustainably, bioenergy can help us to cut greenhouse gas emissions and restore degraded land,” said Ariel Brunner, Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife International. “However, poorly managed production does little to reduce emissions and can have a devastating impact on the environment.”

In 2006 the Commission will bring forward a report in view of a possible revision of the biofuels Directive which will examine the implementation of the Directive in Member States.

David Hopkins

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