Biofuel policy will give ‘negligible’ carbon cuts

The promotion of bio-fuels will not deliver carbon cuts if not accompanied by new sustainability safeguards, environmental groups have warned on the eve of key EU discussions.

CO2 emissions from growing, transporting and processing plant material to make biofuels can offset the carbon savings they deliver, the European Environmental Bureau, Birdlife International and Transport and Environment NGOs said.

“Greenhouse gas savings could be substantial in certain circumstances, or they could be very low in others. Promoting just any biofuels will not automatically deliver carbon savings,” EEB biodiversity campaigner Pieter de Pous told edie.

EU energy ministers will be debating the EU “Biomass Action Plan,” published last December, on 8-9 June.

The EU goal of replacing 5.75% of fossil fuels with bio-fuels by 2010 would require significant imports from countries like Brazil and Indonesia. According to the EU-sponsored Well to Wheels study, Europe would have to use 14-27% of its agricultural land to reach this target – more than is realistic, meaning the target cannot be met with domestically produced biofuels alone.

Imports could cause not only shipping and land transport emissions but also destroy the rainforest to make way for plantations, thus reducing the carbon sink that rainforests provide.

The environmentalists urged the EU to introduce safeguards to make sure only sustainable biofuels are promoted.

“Whether the biofuels target can be met sustainably or not depends on the safeguards and incentives in place,” said Pieter de Pous.

“We see the potential of the directive, but there needs to be a serious effort into designing a system of sustainability safeguards and incentives. With the current resources there is no way the EU can ensure sustainability,” he said.

Biofuels cannot automatically be seen as “green” also because biofuel monocultures can seriously harm biodiversity, the NGOs said.

John Hontelez, EEB secretary general, said: “Climate change and biodiversity loss are among our most pressing challenges “We must urgently reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.”

“Unless we produce biofuels sustainably, we’ll end up with more energy-intensive and environmentally damaging farming practices and hasten the degradation of our ecosystems,” he said.

Aat Peterse of Transport and Environment (T&E) said: “For transport, improving energy efficiency of vehicles should be the first priority. If biofuels are to be part of the energy solution, the EU must ensure that those produced by clearing rainforests and protected habitats will never be sold in Europe.”

Goska Romanowicz

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