Environmentalists call on European Commission to drop biofuels proposal

Europe’s largest network of environmental NGOs, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has called on the European Commission to scrap its recent proposals to boost the consumption of biofuels for transport in Europe, saying that they could do far more harm than good.

The EEB made its surprise announcement in a letter to the EC, stating that recent proposals to boost the use of biofuels (see related story) could have dire consequences for biodiversity, and that they made no economic or ecological sense. It was also pointed out that environmental NGOs had not been consulted during the preparation work.

A major concern raised by the EEB was the potential loss of the land farmers get paid not to farm, known as set-aside, to intensive non-food crops on which a wider range of pesticides is permitted for use. The group believes this will mean that tax payers would be continuing to support intensive farming methods and the ecological value of set-aside would be lost.

Despite the potential cost to the taxpayers of the proposals, and pressures to help boost diversification of the agricultural sector, farmers in member states were not always going to benefit from the new regime. Speaking at this week’s Agriculture Council meeting on integration of new technologies into agriculture, EC Agriculture Commissioner, Dr Franz Fischler, said the possibilities for safeguarding an EU market share through trade measures or crop-specific direct payments are particularly limited under existing WTO rules. He warned that the EU farming industry had to become competitive in the production of bio- fuels to operate in a world market.

At present, raw materials for the production of bio-fuels are often imported, such as palm oil (used to produce bio-diesel) from Malaysia, and bio-ethanol from Canada, Thailand, Brazil and the US. Under the biofuels proposals, these imports would be able to enjoy similar tax benefits.

A further environmental question mark lies over the climate change potential of promoting biofuel production. This is by no means positive, according to EEB scientific adviser, Dr Karola Taschner, who believes biofuel consumption produces no or little climate change or CO2 benefits. According to a US scientist, one of the most common biofuels, ethanol, produced from corn and mixed with diesel to produce a fuel for vehicles, takes more energy go make than it yields when combusted (see related story).

“Firstly, the production of biofuels is heavily dependent on the input of fossil fuels, stated Dr Taschner. ‘Secondly, many life cycle analyses have been conducted and concluded that the potential of biofuels to combat climate change was often negative or neutral right away. This is also not cost-effective compared to other options, like using public transport, smaller cars, or improving engine technology.”

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