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EU lawmakers agree to phase out land-based biofuels

Critics argue that land-based biofuels often increase carbon emissions as opposed to reducing them.

The use of land-based biofuels as part of EU plans for the decarbonisation of transport will be restricted under a proposal endorsed by the European Parliament’s environment committee today. Transport & Environment cautiously welcomes the decision, which is expected to be approved by the full Parliament later this month, will limit at 7% the use of first-generation biofuels that can count toward the 10% renewable energy target in transport by 2020.

 Under the reform, indirect land-use change (ILUC) [1] emissions will be recognised in legislation for the first time. Despite several weakening provisions included by EU governments, fuel suppliers and the European Commission will need to report on ILUC emissions. This is a positive step toward increased transparency and correct carbon accounting of biofuels.  
After years of industry and member state lobbying, this agreement is far weaker than the Commission’s original proposal," said Pietro Caloprisco, senior policy officer at Transport & Environment. "Nevertheless, it sends a clear signal that land-based biofuels have no future role to play in Europe. In order to achieve a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 the EU will need to promote efficiency and deploy a broader number of low-carbon technologies, such as renewable electricity.”
The reform of EU biofuels policy (Renewable Energy Directive and FQD), which is set to be approved by the Parliament plenary on 29 April, establishes a limit on the growing consumption of land-based biofuels, which, because of ILUC emissions, often increase carbon emissions rather than reducing them. Though T&E believes the 7% cap is too high [2], the idea of a cap is in line with the Commission’s 2030 climate and energy communication that states first-generation biofuels should not be supported after 2020 due to ILUC concerns. 
The compromise voted on in the Environment Committee fails to include ILUC emissions in the carbon accounting of biofuels under the RED and FQD. This means harmful biofuels can still be counted toward the EU targets and receive financial support.   
The final deal also contains weak sustainability criteria for advanced biofuels – mainly made from municipal waste and residues.
“If biofuel policies have taught us anything, it is that it’s better to get things right from the beginning," Caloprisco stated. "The European Commission has a mandate to define the sustainability criteria of advanced biofuels, and this should be one of their highest priorities. Clarity of rules is in the interest of industry, society and the environment.”
[1] ILUC happens when land previously used to grow crops for food is converted to grow crops for fuel. As food will have to be grown somewhere else because demand for it remains constant, this will result in an overall increase in emissions caused by biofuels. Learn more at
[2] In 2013, EU consumption of biofuels was at 4.7%. The cap therefore allows a substantial increase of first-generation biofuels consumption.

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